IDF armored vehicles join storm relief efforts; 35,000 homes still without power
Estimates: Storm to cost Israel economy 300 million shekels; Weather system expected to weaken on Saturday; Two bodies found in southern Israel; Israel opens Gaza crossing to allow entry of gas, water pumps.
Thousands of people in and around Jerusalem were still without power on Saturday evening, after over 15 inches of snow piled up in the heaviest December storm since 1953 in the capital. A hastily assembled array of relief services, beefed up by Israeli army troops, came to the aid of hundreds of motorists who were trapped in their vehicles, some for up to 10 hours.
Emergency services were working to reopen Route 1, the main artery to Jerusalem, estimating the highway will be cleared for traffic later on Saturday. Local government officials estimated that the storm will cost the Israeli economy at least 330 million shekels.
Two bodies were found near the Tze'elim River on Saturday. One of them has been identified as one of two people from Rahat who have been missing since Wednesday. Rescuers are still unsure when they will be able to reach the second body.
Israel Electric Company Chairman Yiftach Ron-Tal brushed off criticism of the company Saturday evening, telling Channel 2 that IEC perfumed according to plans. "We have invested hundreds of millions of shekels," he said, "and now we must first look after the citizens who are cut off."
The weather system is expected to weaken as the day progresses Saturday, after four days of heavy storms throughout the country. The weather caused traffic disruptions and power outages, floods in southern regions, a brief closure of Ben-Gurion International Airport, and a measure of excitement among the nation's many snow-lovers.
As of Saturday morning, the total number of households still left without power was 35,000, 13,000 in Jerusalem alone, the Israel Electric Company reported. Snow was still coming down in the north of the country and Jerusalem Saturday, with intermediate rains in the rest of the country.
A one-year old baby died after an electric heater set fire to a house in Lod Saturday morning. A man in Rishon Letzion died Friday after falling off the roof of his house while attempting to repair a leak caused by the storm.
On Friday, Israel opened a main crossing with Gaza to allow in fuel supplies and four water pumps to help relieve flood damage.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, urged the Arab League on Saturday to take steps to end the blockades of his territory, a statement from his office said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat described the snowstorm as a "tsunami," for which the municipality was unprepared. The city set up several improvised snow-havens, granting shelter to hundreds of the snowed-in masses, many of whom had come to the capital to celebrate what is usually a much less torrid event.
Eli Ashkenazi, Yaniv Kubovich, Jack Khoury, Yarden Skop, Shirly Seidler, Zohar Blumenkrantz and Nir Hasson contributed to this report.