safed - Dror Artzi - December 14 2010
A Safed resident carries clean water. Photo by Dror Artzi
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The water supply to 1,800 apartments in Safed, as well as to the city's courthouse, fire and police stations and immigrant absorption center, was suspended yesterday after it was determined that diesel fuel was running in the area's water faucets.

The police are treating the incident - which was apparently caused when the driver of a diesel fuel delivery truck bringing fuel to the Cna'an absorption center mistakenly attached the tanker's hose to the water intake nozzle, introducing about 2,000 liters of diesel fuel into the area's water supply - as a case of negligence.

The incident began yesterday afternoon when a police officer making coffee at the station noticed the liquid coming out of the faucet was brown and smelled like diesel fuel.

"I couldn't believe my eyes, it was just like diesel fuel and had a really strong smell," the officer related. "I called my buddies, I didn't know whether it was a screw-up or something more serious."

After receiving complaints from the police and others in the affected area, the Upper Galilee Water Authority disconnected the water supply and began sending water tanker trucks to the area to supply residents.

Residents expressed anger about the unannounced water shut-off. "The nights are cold, and suddenly there's no water in the faucets. How do they expect me to go out to a tanker to get water for my children?" one man complained to Haaretz. "I hope all the relevant authorities will know how to prevent such mishaps in the future and it won't be like the Carmel fire disaster, with each one blaming the other."

The Health Ministry issued a statement warning residents and workers in the Cna'an neighborhood not to use the water in their faucets for drinking, cooking or bathing.

Upper Galilee Water Authority spokesman Yoram Ben Zur told Haaretz that agency employees and representatives of the Mekorot Water Authority and the Health Ministry followed emergency procedures, closing the water supply and taking water samples for testing. After tests confirmed that diesel fuel had been introduced into the water pipes, a complete flushing and sterilization of the affected pipes was ordered.

The driver of the fuel truck was summoned to the Safed police station for questioning, but according to station commander Gabi Ron, criminal prosecution is unlikely in the case.

The Safed municipality said in a statement that city manager Ori Ilan has asked the police to investigate the incident fully, and the city is cooperating with the water authority to clean out the pipes and restore regular water service as quickly as possible.