U.N. Relief Teams Hope Damaged Buildings Can Be Saved in Lebanon

Relief teams fanning out across Lebanon hope many of the heavily damaged buildings can be salvaged and are requesting the U.N. send more supplies for temporary repairs and to restore electricity and water services, officials said Monday.

In Aita al-Shaab, a village just north of the Israeli border, for example, only 100 of the 1,300 houses remain, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Jack Redden said.

"The rest were either totally destroyed or damaged to the extent that no one could live in them," Redden said.

UNHCR is providing plastic and metal sheeting and other items "so that people can get their houses back to at least the stage where they can live in them while they continue to repair them," Redden said.

A convoy of trucks loaded with tents was traveling from Damascus to Beirut on Monday, he added.

A U.N. team found in the southern villages of Markaba and Houla that people didn't have water and power and the roads, fuel stations, health facilities were heavily damaged, said U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs.

"In Markaba, the damage was very extensive with 50 percent of buildings destroyed," said Byrs, noting that "while most of the damage appears reparable, the most urgent need is the provision of water, food and shelter support."

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A U.N. convoy of seven trucks brought relief supplies from Tyre to Aita al Shaab on Sunday, and another convoy went from Beirut to Houla, said Byrs.

An assessment mission to Nabatiyeh reported that about half of the houses were destroyed and that many bombs and other unexploded ordnance were lay on the ground, said Byrs.

U.N. aid workers said the Baalbek-Hermel area, a Hezbollah stronghold heavily hit by Israeli airstrikes, suffered the most severe damage in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, said Byrs.

The destruction of factories has left workers unemployed, she said, adding that in all the districts of Bekaa Valley, people received food from relief workers. She said there were some reports of drug shortages, particularly to treat chronic diseases.

In the meantime, aid groups on Sunday held their first general coordination meeting in Tyre, she said, adding that the meeting on Monday was focusing on shelter, water and sanitation.

Byrs said more aid is coming in by sea and land. On Sunday, there were two Lebanese tankers unloading fuel in the ports of Beirut and Tripoli, while an Italian and a Turkish ship brought relief goods to Beirut. On Monday, the vessel Anamcara left Beirut for Limasol, Cyprus, she said.

Redden said two planes were landing in Beirut on Monday carrying supplies including seven huge warehouse tents that will be set up around Tyre to store relief goods before they are distributed to the worst-hit areas.

UNHCR spokesman Redden said more than 140,000 of the 180,000 Lebanese who had sought refuge in Syria during the fighting had returned through official border crossings by Sunday.

With many others having gone back through other border crossing points, only 2,500 to 5,000 Lebanese are estimated to remain in Syria, Redden said.

"These are presumably all people who are quite vulnerable and can't go back immediately. So, we've got teams going to check on their condition and see what the problem is that is preventing them from returning," he said.

The World Food Program reports that it has delivered some 2,000 US tons of food to more than 400,000 people since 24 July, said Byrs.

The World Health Organization said it has mobilized over 54 volunteers to assess public health facilities in southern Lebanon and the southern part of Beirut, she said.