Storm
The Tel Aviv port on Sunday, December 12, 2010. Photo by Leetal Halamish
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Heavy rains and wind gusts of up to 120 kilometers per hour sunk a ship off the Ashdod coast yesterday, drove huge waves over breakwaters in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, destroyed an ancient pier in Caesarea, delayed flights, closed seaports, flooded streets and caused power outages throughout the country.

Thirty people were treated yesterday for weather-related injuries, the Magen David Adom rescue service said.

Israel's two main industrial ports, in Haifa and Ashdod, were closed to all ships yesterday.

A Moldovan ship carrying iron to Ashdod capsized and sank 7.5 nautical miles from the shore. The 11 crew members deployed rafts and were rescued by a passing ship.

After the Moldovan ship sank, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz instructed the Shipping and Ports Authority to open a situation room in cooperation with the air force and navy. Ships anchored off the coast were buffeted by waves of up to 10 meters high. A Turkish ship radioed that it had only five hours worth of fuel left, and was allowed into the Ashdod harbor despite the closure. Thousands of passengers were affected by disruptions in air travel. Outgoing flights were delayed and incoming flights were diverted to other airports.

A Lufthansa flight heading to Israel was ordered to land in Larnaca, Cyprus, and eventually returned to Frankfurt without getting to Israel. A flight from Israel to Frankfurt on the same airline was canceled, but an extra flight is scheduled for today.

Three British Airways and one Alitalia flight were also diverted to Cyprus. An El Al flight had to land in Rhodes and an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa landed in Cairo. There were power cuts and transportation delays across the country.

Nearly every major town in Israel went off the grid for several hours as the wind knocked over trees and other objects, which fell on top of electrical wires.

By last night some 10,000 people were still affected by the outages, and generators were brought in to support the grid in some areas, including Bat Yam.

Train movement on the coastline was severely disrupted, mainly because of trees and other objects caught in the tracks. The delays left thousands of passengers stranded at various train stations, not all of which offer adequate protection from the wind and the rain.

The delays were further exacerbated by planned repairs on the train track passing through Tel Aviv, and Israel Railways offered shuttle buses at some stations. The repairs are set to continue throughout the week.

The roads were backed up all over the country due to localized flooding and falling streetlamps and trees.

Eleven people were lightly injured last night in a car accident at the Cabri Junction near Nahariya, and a man in his 50s was seriously injured when crossing a street in Carmiel. All were taken to local hospitals for treatment.

The Tel Aviv port, which serves as a popular recreation area, was battered badly by the storm.

Massive waves buffeted the pier, flooding and destroying the interiors of several restaurants and cafes. High-end restaurant Comme Il Faut, which stands right on the water line, looked war-torn after waves washed through it, destroying lamps, tables, chairs and heavy concrete blocks.

Restaurant manager and chef Adi Abo said the waves plunged into the restaurant hours after it closed for the night.

"If it had happened earlier, it could have been a real disaster," he said. As the staff surveyed the wreckage, they found a large grouper fish on the pavement behind the restaurant, and promptly placed the trophy in a refrigerated room.

"We'll cook it," said Abo. "It's a small gift left to us by the sea."

One of the restaurant owners estimated that the sea had reached its tendrils some 40 meters inland. But despite the millions of shekels' worth of damage, most businesses will try to return today to business as usual.

Further south, at the Jaffa port, two piers were broken and the southern parking lot was flooded. Harbor director Ran Wolf said some areas of the harbor were closed for fear curious onlookers would be injured. "But the sights were great," he said.

In Caesarea, an ancient pier collapsed and the Crusader city was damaged by the weather.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority warned six weeks ago that the pier, eroded by the waves over the year, needed to be reinforced, but nothing was done.

Parks authority architect Ze'ev Margalit said a power station south of the site was blocking the flow of sand to the ancient city, rendering its ruins even more vulnerable to the waves, but plans to move sand to the site and reinforce the structures were delayed by lack of funds.

Heavy snow fell on Mount Hermon, which may be open for skiing by Wednesday. Snow was lying 60 centimeters thick at the lowest cable car stop and 70 centimeters at the highest one. The site remained closed throughout the day yesterday.

Snow also fell in other parts of the Golan Heights, with some 25 centimeters of snow registered in Majdal Shams.

Farmers in the north welcomed the rains, but said much more rainfall would be needed to restore the Kinneret and the aquifers to safe levels.

Earlier warnings of floods in the areas decimated by the Carmel fire did not materialize. The rains came at significant enough intervals to seep through the ashes rather than roll down the slopes and flood the valleys below.

The storm did not spare neighboring countries, with both Egypt and Syria closing their largest Mediterranean ports. The storm caused the deaths of three people in Alexandria, where 28 buildings were fully or partly destroyed. There were delays in the Cairo and Beirut airports.

The rains over the past days have completely made up for the rainfall shortages of the past two months, meteorologists said. According to the Meteo-Tech meteorological company, some areas saw more than 100 millimeters of rain in just 24 hours.

There is more rain forecast for the weekend, but it will be lighter than the rain in the last few days. Meteorologists are not expecting another storm as powerful as this one any time in the near future.