WEATHER

Jerusalem snow is first of its kind in decades

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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - Syrians at a sprawling refugee camp in northern Jordan scrambled to batten down their tents against torrential rains and high winds as a blustery winter storm battered parts of the Middle East for a second day Thursday.

A blanket of snow adorned the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Associated Press

The storm, dubbed Alexa, already has pounded much of Lebanon and parts of northern Syria, pushing temperatures below zero and dumping snow and heavy rains. In some parts of Israel and the West Bank, meanwhile, government offices and schools shuttered to wait out the winter weather.

Syrian refugees across the region, however, were among the hardest hit by the storm, which heaped another layer of misery on the already grim existence of many of the more than 2 million Syrians who have fled the civil war raging in their homeland.

At Jordan's sprawling Zaatari refugee camp, which is home to 120,000 refugees, wind toppled at least 10 tents overnight, leaving residents vulnerable to freezing temperatures.

"It was very cold, windy and muddy and all I was able to think of is how to protect my wife and four children," said Ali Shatri, 36. He said aid workers quickly evacuated him and other families whose tents were blown down to other secure areas in the camp.

Zaatari spokesman Wadah Hmoud said two days of heavy rains have flooded several areas of the camp. He said aid workers were struggling to replace tents with prefabricated housing units for the camp's 120,000 inhabitants.

Snow also battered most parts of central and southern Jordan, shutting down government offices, causing power disruptions, blocking roads and stranding motorists.

The snowstorm is expected to continue through Friday and possibly early Saturday, Jordan's Meteorology Department said.

In neighboring Israel and the Palestinian territories, the early snow surprised many.

In Jerusalem, schools cancelled classes and buses in and out of the city were not operating. Snow blanketed palm and cypress trees. Revelers threw snowballs along the walls of the Old City, while others built a snowman across from a U.S. Consulate building.

By midafternoon, the snow had turned to a cold rain, leaving Jerusalem streets slippery with slush. The main highway linking the city with Tel Aviv was closed till midday.

A light snow also fell throughout the West Bank, prompting officials to close schools and government offices for the day.

In the Gaza Strip, the Health Ministry said authorities evacuated 30 people to hospitals and moved others into shelters after heavy rains caused flooding and power outages.

Yousef al-Zahar, the director of Gaza's civil defense, said most of the water collecting pools were already filled with rain. He said a lack of fuel meant municipalities could not pump it out, so authorities were trying to close some streets with sand bags to channel water away from homes as a temporary solution.

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