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Sand, snow, lightning storms wreak Mideast havoc

Fog covers the Cairo skyline behind an island on the Nile river on December 12, 2010. A sandstorm, strong winds and lashing rains swept across Egypt, closing several ports and disrupting traffic in the Suez Canal while at least three people died in a factory collapse in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, officials said. Photo courtesy AFP

Blizzard rocks US Midwest, East Coast braces
Chicago (AFP) Dec 12, 2010 - A fierce early winter storm pounded several Midwestern states and was moving east on Sunday, shutting busy airports and highways and snarling travel across about half the United States. Blizzard warnings were issued for parts of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin as snow socked the states in tandem with wind gusts topping 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour. The storm -- 10 days before the onset of winter -- took its greatest toll in Minnesota, where as much as two feet (61 centimeters) of snow had fallen in some locations, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

The state's largest city Minneapolis was under a blanket of white 17 inches (43 cm) deep, the worst snowfall to hit the city in more than 19 years and the fifth-biggest on record. As an indicator of the storm's severity, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport -- a transit hub with expertise in contending with foul weather -- was shut down for the first time in years. "Travel conditions will remain hazardous and potentially dangerous," the NWS said in a weather bulletin. Snow also damaged the Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Vikings American football team, and led to the indefinite postponement of their game against the New York Giants. The stadium's inflatable roof sagged like a collapsed souffle when the snow's weight damaged some of the covering's teflon panels.

Roads in much of Wisconsin and Iowa have been closed or virtually impassible, and while snowfall was expected to let up later Sunday, temperatures were predicted to nosedive with wind chill readings well below zero (minus 18 degrees Celsius). "The Wisconsin Department of Transportation along with the State Patrol is advising motorists not to travel on any Wisconsin highway now through Sunday, unless absolutely necessary," the department alerted on its website. Snowfall was not due to be as deep in Chicago, but the Windy City was expected to live up to its nickname, with gusts stronger than 50 miles (80 km) per hour forecast. Flight delays were averaging about an hour at Chicago's O'Hare International, the world's third busiest airport, with minor delays at nearby Midway Airport. The storm was causing temperatures to plunge as far south as Atlanta and the system was expected to bring heavy rain or snow Sunday across the entire East Coast, from the northeast state of Maine clear down to southern Florida.
by Staff Writers
Cairo (AFP) Dec 12, 2010
Winds, rain, sandstorms and hail battered the southern and eastern Mediterranean on Sunday, killing at least five people, closing ports and disrupting traffic in the Suez Canal.

Drought-stricken countries across the Middle East had been praying for rain for weeks when the weather turned violent at the weekend, with at least five people killed as gale-force winds and torrential rain pounded the coastline.

Winds topped 100 kilometres (60 miles) per hour and waves reached up to 10 metres (32.8 feet) tall as cities in Lebanon and Israel suffered power cuts.

At least three people were killed in Egypt when a factory collapsed in heavy rain in the densely populated northern port city of Alexandria.

Six others were also seriously injured in the collapse, a security official said, adding that 30 people could have been working in the six-storey factory.

The official Egyptian MENA news agency reported that streets in the northern Beheira governorate were inundated and its cities and villages also experienced power cuts.

The storms, which briefly disrupted flight schedules, come after unseasonably high temperatures and a lack of rain ravaged forests across the region and left farmers struggling to survive.

A Cairo airport official said five inbound flights had to be diverted to other airports in Egypt but no decision was made to cancel any departures.

An Italian container ship was also stranded off Egypt's northwestern coast of Marsa Matruh after its engines broke down, with 21 crew on board still waiting to be rescued.

Vessel owner Stefano Messina told the Italian news agency Ansa that a tug boat was on its way from Crete to assist the ship which he said was carrying toxic materials including paint and resins.

"The cargo is safe and cannot provoke an environmental catastrophe. There are 38 containers of paint and resins," Messina was quoted as saying.

Rain and hail whipped across Lebanon as the long-awaited first snowstorm of the year fell on mountains on Sunday -- good news for the country's famed ski resorts but leaving many commuters stranded in icy conditions.

Seaside roads and ports closed on Sunday morning, hours after a 45-year-old woman was killed when a falling palm tree crashed into her car.

The Beirut government evacuated several homes on the coast in the south and placed emergency rescue teams on alert.

In Israel, the body of the Russian tourist blown into the sea on Saturday has been found, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Sunday.

Waves of up to seven metres prevented police from carrying out searches for him but "his body later washed ashore on one of the beaches nearby," Rosenfeld said. Two people were also moderately hurt by falling trees, he added.

Public television reported that 30 Israelis had been slightly injured by falling trees and other wind-blown objects on Sunday. In Tel Aviv alone, more than 120 trees were uprooted, it said.

The storm began on Saturday, a week after a devastating forest fire killed 43 people near the northern port city of Haifa which was closed on Sunday. Some flights out of Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport were also disrupted.

A Moldovan freighter also went down in stormy seas some 15 kilometres from Israel's port of Ashdod on Sunday, but its 11 Ukrainian crew members were all rescued unharmed.

In the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied plateau which adjoins Syria, snow and rain were abundant but sandstorms were expected in the south of the country, Israel's meteorology department said.

A snowstorm lashed Damascus, disrupting traffic but also bringing some relief from drought which has gripped Syria for the past four years. UN estimates say the drought has affected around 1.3 million Syrians.

Sandstorms also hit the desert countries of Jordan and Egypt and visibility deteriorated while temperatures plummeted.

Jordan was also bracing for heavy rain and snow, which officials warned could lead to flooding.

In Egypt, the bad weather forced several ports to close and disrupted traffic in the Suez Canal, which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

The waterway was hit by poor visibility and winds of up to 40 knots an hour, said an official at the canal, Egypt's third-largest source of foreign revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers.

The authorities barred south-bound ships from entering the waterway, and north-bound traffic from the Red Sea was limited.

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easyJet scraps Berlin flights due to de-icer shortage
Berlin (AFP) Dec 10, 2010
British budget airline easyJet scrapped all flights leaving from a snow-covered Berlin on Friday morning because of what it called a "serious" shortage of de-icer to make its aircraft safe to fly. On Thursday, some 200 flights operated by all airlines were scrapped at Berlin's two main international airports, about one third of those scheduled, a spokesman said, partly for the same reason. ... read more

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