2 dead, 2200 in shelters across storm-ravaged Gaza Strip
December 15, 2013
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The death toll in the Gaza Strip from winter storm Alexa rose to two on Sunday as more than 2,000 Gazans remained in shelters and much of the region was still paralyzed after four days of severe weather.
Gaza Ministry of Health spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra in a statement Sunday identified the two dead as 21-year-old Hamza al-Amour, who suffocated to death while trying to heat himself at home, and 90-year-old Mahmoud Farajallah, who died after his house was flooded.
More than a hundred people were injured in storm-related incidents across the Gaza Strip as well, the statement added, though most of these injuries were minor.
As of Sunday, government figures showed that 2,234 residents were still in shelters after widespread flooding across the territory displaced hundreds of families in the preceding days.
Over the course of the storm more than 5,000 people were evacuated to shelters, but many had apparently since returned home or left shelters to stay with relatives.
Winter storm Alexa completely paralyzed the Gaza Strip, leaving major roads as well as hundreds of houses flooded with water across the coastal enclave.
Streets across the Gaza Strip area were almost empty except for civil defense and other rescue teams trying to help families.
A Ma'an reporter in Gaza confirmed that fishermen were seen using rowing boats to move from house to house to evacuate families in areas afflicted with disaster in Gaza City, Jabalia, Rafah, and Khan Younis.
Emergency response teams were crippled by a severe lack of electricity or fuel for generators, making it extremely difficult for them to pump water out of flooded buildings or engage in other rescue missions.
Despite these limitations, on Saturday Gaza's civil defense force media spokesperson Muhammad al-Midna told Ma'an that rescue teams had managed to successfully evacuate 1,190 people.
The storm was the strongest the region had seen in decades and it revealed the decrepit state of the Gaza Strip's aging infrastructure. Since 2006-7, the Israeli blockade of Gaza has severely restricted imports of concrete, making repair extremely difficult.
The power crisis also compounded the storm's devastation, as in recent days electricity availability plunged from six hours a day to a mere one or two after electricity lines from Egypt and Israel into Gaza were downed soon after the storm hit the area.
In some areas electricity was cut completely for two days as cold water flooded up to half a meter in many places.
During the storm, many families used simple wood-burning stoves for heating, while others who couldn't afford wood to burn merely stayed in bed, a Ma'an correspondent said.
After the power lines were repaired Saturday afternoon, the electricity resumed the old schedule according to which each area receives power for six hours a day.
On Sunday morning, 450,000 liters of diesel fuel donated by Qatar was allowed to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing, and by the afternoon the Gaza Strip's sole functioning power plant was running again for the first time since seven weeks ago, when fuel shortages forced it to shut down.
The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.
UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said on Saturday that large regions of the Gaza Strip were a "disaster area" and called on the international community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed.
"Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this," he said in a statement sent to Ma'an.
Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.
The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.
The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip's electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.
Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.
In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.
Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.
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