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Lebanon scrambles to cope with Baalbek floods

Massive damage to Christian village prompts criticism of politicians’ response to crisis

Damascus: Heavy rain on Wednesday and Thursday resulted in massive floods at the Christian village of Ras Baalbak in the northern Bekka Valley of Lebanon, where at least one person, Shahira Balis, was killed, as mud and water broke into her home.

The village’s electricity system was disrupted completely, as the floods knocked down all electricity polls, and destroyed a still unaccounted number of shops, fields, crops, and merchandise.

School walls collapsed, and cars were smashed by the floods, while trees were uprooted.

The ceilings of many older homes caved in.

Two ancient Byzantine churches of Ras Baalbak sustained minor damage due to their fortified stone walls.

“Over 15,000 people live here” said Tony Rizk, a shop owner in Ras Baalbak, “…and not a single one of them was spared the destruction of the floods.”

Speaking to Gulf News, he said: “(Prime minister Sa’ad Hariri is too busy for us, watching the World Cup in Moscow. We read in the news that he is following up by telephone. Thank God for that!,” he said sarcastically.

The floods come on the eve of the Lebanese cabinet formation, where Hariri has been tasked to lead a caretaker government and form a new one, by President Michel Aoun.

Hariri did send a delegation to evaluate the damage in Ras Baalbak, headed by Future Party MP Bakr Al Hujairi and the region’s MP Antoine Habshi.

They toured homes, schools, and the old marketplace, surveying damage with General Mohammad Kheir, head of the Higher Relief Council, Head of the Municipality Duraid Rahhal, and the governor of Baalbak-Herml, Basher Khodor.

Civil defense vehicles were rushed to the scene to help those in need, from nearby Zahle and Bar Elias, while Red Cross volunteers have been working on sucking the water out of homes and re-erecting walls and doors.

“Does anybody care my friend” screamed Elias Nasrallah, another resident of Ras Baalbak, over the phone, adding: “This is a Christian village. We are Catholics. Where are the Maronites of Lebanon? Where is President Michel Aoun? Where is the Patriarch? I have a supermarket and everything in my store was destroyed. Everything! What remains in the storage fridges has rooted since we have had no electricity for days. Who is going to compensate me?”

His sister Rima Nasrallah, a housewife, added: “There is an Arabic proverb that says: There is no life for those who you are calling upon. We need a proper sewage system. Even half-modernised states and less developed countries have one. Can you believe this is Lebanon in 2018?”

For his part, MP Habshi noted: “We all are responsible for what happened, and we would like to appeal to President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri to pay immediate attention to this catastrophe.”

Habshi was the only official to spend the night in Ras Baalbak, where he paid condolences to the family of the woman who died in the floods and helped residents rebuild walls that collapsed.

Samer Dalati, a 23-year old Syrian refugee at one of the nearby camps, added to Gulf News: “Something similar happened in Damascus a few weeks ago. But there, the sewage system is blocked, to prevent the rebels from running through the tunnels from Ghouta into Damascus. Here its different. The sewage system is down because of corruption and neglect. What happened here was a disaster!”

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