You always hear complaints about the "useless security checks" when you are stuck in one of the many short traffic jams leading to every mall's parking lot - after all, "What could really happen?"
On Sunday, a day after a car bomb was found in the outer parking lot next to Haifa's Lev Hamifratz shopping mall, criticism was leveled at the "careless security checks" and the apparent ease with which a terrorist could pass through security and into the mall.
Either way, the mall's security guards did not take any chances Sunday and meticulously examined even the bags inside the shoppers' cars. The access road to the mall, which also leads to the outer parking lot where the car bomb was found, was closed to traffic.
"There has never been anything like this here. Just think about the damage from the glass windows of the stores that would have blown out on us and the shoppers - it's terrifying," said Dafna Alkobi, who has worked at the mall's Mifal Hapayis lottery counter for 18 years - "since Saddam Hussein's missile fell during the first Gulf War and delayed the mall's opening by two months."
"Crowds are thin today, compared to regular Sundays. People are afraid, although today this is the most secure place in Israel," Alkobi said, smiling.
Standing out among the few visitors were police, security guards wearing blue vests, and Shin Bet security service officials, many of them bearded or balding, interrogating the security guards.
"I have to say that the evacuation was exemplary. There were thousands of people, Saturday nights are popular [for shopping]. The guards came to us personally and told us we have to leave the mall, without loudspeakers and without panicking," said Alkobi. "We thought it was just another bag stuffed with socks that someone forgot, which had to be considered as a suspicious object. I closed the stand slowly, without panicking," she said. Alkobi closed her register at 9:37 P.M., an hour after the first explosion had gone off in the car. The evacuation proceeded in stages, with the areas closest to the site of the car bomb vacated first.
"Only when I went outside and saw the police and bomb squad did I understand how big this was," Alkobi said. "On the way home I heard that there were dozens of kilograms of explosives, and then I realized that it could have been much worse," she said.
Rahel Azoulay, who works at the mall's Pelephone booth, was more unnerved. She took a sedative Sunday morning before coming to work. "It is scary. I was more stressed after I realized how complacent I reacted at the beginning, when I didn't know what had really happened outside the mall," she said. "I don't know what to do when something like that happens." Azoulay said the mall's management needs to provide more frequent updates and instructions about how to act in similar events.
The mall's management said it holds an update-course on how to respond to emergencies once every six months for all mall tenants.
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