Lebanon News

As floods overrun Lebanon, officials reject responsibility

BEIRUT: Heavy rains flooded roads across Lebanon for hours on end Monday, exposing neglected infrastructure in the country and further justifying the demands of protesters on the 54th day of the nationwide anti-government uprising.

Cars, buses and motorcycles were brought to a standstill in various locations of the country, stalling in deep pools of water and flash floods. People in affected areas blamed the scenes on chronic mismanagement and poor maintenance of roads and highways.

Beirut recorded 53.8 millimeters of rain from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., a number that is considered higher than normal for such a short amount of time according to Jocelyn Abou Fares, director of the Meteorological Department at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.

Sporadic rainfall is expected Tuesday and Wednesday before heavy rains to resume Thursday, making it likely that similar floods will continue later in the week. Rainfall is expected to decrease Friday.

“Every year if it rains, even for 15 minutes, this is what happens,” said one man from the Beirut suburb of Ouzai, interviewed by the local TV channel Al Jadeed.

TV footage and pictures taken by The Daily Star showed parked and abandoned cars engulfed by water in Beirut’s Southern suburb of Ouzai and its neighboring Sultan Ibrahim area.

Surreal scenes circulated on social media of residents paddling kayaks and surf boards through the flooded streets, while some attempted to open a sewage drain with a large wooden plank. Sewage in Sultan Ibrahim was also shown to be mixed with the floodwater.

Officials blamed one another with no one taking responsibility for the failure.

Ouzai, which falls under the district of Ghobeiry, is considered to be one of Lebanon’s poorest suburbs, with several of the neighborhood’s buildings having been illegally constructed.

In general, the area is known for having poor infrastructure and much of it is industrialized. Deputy Mayor of Ghobeiry Ahmad al-Khansa said that the road maintenance in Sultan Ibrahim was the responsibility of the Public Works Ministry.

“The drains could not handle the large quantities of rain in such a short amount of time,” Khansa told The Daily Star.

Khansa said that once the flooding began, the municipality had gone to the streets and removed debris blocking the drains. But a photographer from The Daily Star spotted teams from the municipality removing metal sheeting that had been intentionally used to cover the drains.

“The government needs to do its job ... The municipality can do only what is in its power” Khansa said.

However, during a televised news conference, caretaker Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos said that “Ouzai is outside the jurisdiction of the Public Works Ministry, but we are rushing to help so that citizens don’t drown in the water.”

He said that his ministry was only responsible for main public roads and highways, but that Tripoli, Beirut and Sidon were not subject to the Public Works Ministry.

“I take responsibility for the areas where I am responsible,” he added.

Fenianos indicated that “funds for the ministry are available, but cannot be spent,” adding that “50-year-old infrastructure” cannot handle such heavy rain.

Despite this claim, the main Costa Brava Highway and Ouzai tunnel that lead to Beirut’s airport were flooded well into the evening. Large trucks and cars were seen immersed and stranded in the flooded tunnel and highway.

“Shame on you, shame on the government,” yelled a man whose car had been destroyed by the flood on the highway.

Civil Defense teams and trucks were dispatched to help move the stranded vehicles. Lebanese citizens also took it upon themselves to push cars through the waist-deep water. Neither the Public Works Ministry nor municipality workers were present to assist.

Earlier in the day, the road at the entrance of the airport had briefly flooded, causing heavy traffic on the highway south of Beirut. Video footage also showed rain seeping through the ceiling of some areas of the airport.

Director-General of Civil Aviation Mohamad Chehabeddine told The Daily Star that the flooding had only lasted for half an hour and that this was because of the “abnormal intensity of water in a short amount of time.”

Chehabeddine confirmed that the heavy rains had not caused any flight cancellations. He added that some flights might have been momentarily delayed because of the low visibility.

Earlier in the day, video footage showed that the Labor Ministry’s lobby had been inundated. Khaldeh highway was also severely flooded and flooding occurred in other areas including Bshamoun, Choueifat and various roads in Tripoli.

Heavy rains had caused havoc on Lebanon’s roads only four days earlier. TV footage last Thursday showed cars stalling in some 50-centimeters-deep water pools and flash floods on the highway south of the capital Beirut and surrounding villages such as Naameh and Damour.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 10, 2019, on page 1.

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