Heavy storms continued throughout Israel on Friday, causing traffic disruptions and power outages across the country, floods in southern regions, a brief closure of Ben-Gurion International Airport, and a measure of excitement among the nation's many snow-lovers.
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Thousands of people in and around Jerusalem were left without power. 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.
Speaking on the radio, 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.
00:48 A.M.: Israel Electric Company says it has reconnected most of Jerusalem homes back to the power grid. Announces 94.5 percent of Jerusalem residents have electricity. 13,000 household still without power.
00:38 A.M.: The Israeli Football Association announced that two premier league soccer matches scheduled for Saturday - Bnei Sakhnin v. Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona v. Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv – are postponed. The association will hold another consultation Saturday morning to decide regarding the other games scheduled for that day. The date the postponed matches are to be held has yet to be decided.
11:07 P.M.: Tel Aviv's Ayalon Highway reopens after brief closure.
10:35 P.M.: Some 50,000 households – mostly in Jerusalem and the settlements - still don't have power.
9:50 P.M.: Tel Aviv's Ayalon Highway closes to traffic due to flooding of Ayalon River.
9:01 P.M.: Storm in Safed intensifies; snow levels reach almost 2 feet.
8:50 P.M.: Israel Police say Tel Aviv's Ayalon Highway to close within an hour due to floods.
8:20 P.M.: Israel Railways to operate two free trains on Saturday from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and Haifa. First train due to depart at 11 A.M. and the second at 2 P.M.
7:10 P.M.: Rishon Letzion man dies after falling off the roof of his house while attempting to repair a leak caused by the storm.
6:15 P.M.: Snowfall reported in the southern city of Dimona.
6:10 P.M.: All roads leading to the Golan Heights and the city of Safed closed for traffic.
5:50 P.M.: Israel Electric Corp says power restored to about half of the residents of Jerusalem and surrounding neighborhoods.
4:45 P.M. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett instructs his ministry to approve all requests to employ workers over Shabbat in order to allow for rescue and repair operations in light of the storm.
4:25 P.M. Snowfall resumes in Jerusalem and is expected to continue until early Saturday morning. Israel Police and the Jerusalem municipality instruct residents to stay indoors.
4:20 P.M. Residents report landslide in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which they say endangers the foundations of three residential buildings that have already begun to crack. According to residents, the municipality recently conducted renovations in the area, but saved money by not building a supporting wall. This wall, they said, could have prevented the landslide.
4:10 P.M. After holding a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, security services and emergency rescue services, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, "We are prepared in case the weather continues and I request all citizens listen to the instructions of the authorities."
"From snowy Jerusalem, I wish everyone a peaceful Sabbath, especially to the police and soldiers, Magen David Adom [ambulance service] personnel, the Israel Electric Corp, and all those working during this weather," he said.
4:08 P.M. Israel Electric Corp says it has successfully restored electricity to 20,000 homes in Jerusalem, but thousands remain cut off.
3:50 P.M. Hailstorm reaches Tel Aviv.
2:57 P.M. Heeding a request by UN officials, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced Thursday that it would open the Kerem Shalom crossing, due to extenuating weather circumstances, to allow for the transport into Gaza of gas for heating houses and water pumps for coping with floods.
2:21 P.M. Police urge drivers to stay off the roads due to danger of slipping.
2:02 P.M.: Several towns and cities in Israel's norther region are without power: Among them are Metula, Upper Nazareth, Amuka, Mitzpe Hila, Kerem Ben Zimra, and several neighborhoods in Haifa and Safed.
1:38 P.M.: The kibbutz movement and the Mate Yehuda regional council are considering the evacuation of thier residents who were cut off from electricity. In case such a decision is made, kibbutzim and moshavim in central Israel will host the evacuees.
1:30 P.M.: Route 1 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is still closed to traffic, as is a portion of route 6 and sections of Ayalon highway.
11:46: A.M.: Public Security Minister says it will take days to repair the damage caused by the storm. All in all some 2,400 people were aided by relief services.
11:20 A.M.: Seeking to evaluate the storm's impact on cities in the West Bank, the IDF has contacted Palestinian Authority representatives. According to an IDF officer, the storm is creating similar problems in the PA territories- but that at the present time, no aid is being given to the West Bank's Palestinian population. "But if we will need to – we will help there, too," he added.
11:03 A.M.: Evacuation of all drivers trapped in route 443 completed. Security Ministry aid convoys making their way towards Mevaseret Zion and Beit Horon area. Snow is accumulating on the peaks of Jordan's Edom Mountains, near Eilat.
10:38 A.M.: Air traffic to and from Israel was shut off for some 40 minutes due to thick clouds over Ben Gurion Airport. Two commercial aircraft that were en route to Israel were diverted to Larnaca in Cyprus for landing, and will be flying to Israel shotrly.
10:08 A.M.: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino on Friday morning, and received updates regarding police and army efforts to rescue drivers stuck in their vehicles on roads throughout Israel.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also notified the prime minister that the IDF will continue assisting civilian rescue services for as long as necessary.
9:16 A.M.: Residents in almost all of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods have reported blackouts, most of which have been caused by trees collapsing on power lines due to the snow. The problem is most prevalent in the city’s older neighborhoods, which have larger trees and more outdated power infrastructure. There have been widespread power outages reported in Kiryat Yovel, Ramat Beit Hakerem, downtown Jerusalem, and Ora, a small town outside of the city.
Outages were also reported in Jerusalem’s suburbs: Abu Ghosh, Neve Ilan, Tzur Hadassah, Mevo Beitar, Givat Ze’ev, Givon, Beit Zayit, Gush Etzion, Beit El, Bar Giora, Hes Harim, Ma’ale Hahamisha, Tzuba, as well as settlements in Samaria and the South Hebron Hills.
9:01 A.M.: MK Ariel Attias was one of the thousands of individuals stuck on the roads to Jerusalem last night. Attias was stuck in his vehicle for 12 hours, and was rescued at 8:00 A.M., and taken to the Ofer military base outside of Jerusalem. “This was a total failure. It’s completely unreasonable that in 2013, Israel’s capital is paralyzed,” said Attias. “Where were all of the preparations? The plows and the salters? There were children here, people stuck without gas. People could have frozen to death,” continued Attias.
According to the MK, the IDF and the Israel Police did not attempt to assist the people stuck on the roads overnight. “No one talks to you, every many for himself. There was no one to call, the police and the municipality didn’t answer. In the end, I saw an army jeep, and asked them to pull me out of the snow.”
8:40 A.M.: Thousands of Jerusalem residents were left without power during the night. Roughly 700 people were stuck in their cars on the roads near Jerusalem, and were rescued during the early morning. Hundreds more are still waiting for rescue.
8:35 A.M.: The Israel Police have called on citizens to refrain from driving. The southbound Ayalon freeway is covered in ice, and is very dangerous.
8:28 A.M.: Jerusalem resident Avi Levi told haaretz that he has been stuck two kilometers from Jerusalem since Thursday evening. “Fortunately I went food shipping yesterday, so I had what to eat, but soon I’ll have to start eating raw potatoes,” he said with a smile, though like many others stuck on the roads, he was full of criticism for the police. “They should have closed the roads. Before I left I called the municipality’s call center and they told me the roads were open,” said Levi. “When the police want to close a road, they put an officer every two meters. Not a single plow passed by here all night. Police cars that went by didn’t stop to see how the people were doing. It’s stupidity.”
7:41 A.M.: Snow fell in northern Israel overnight. School was cancelled in Safed, and roads leading to the city were closed. 10 centimeters of snow also fell in the northern Golan Heights, and public transportation in the area has been shut down, and school was cancelled as well.
Capital unprepared for storm's severity
Roads to and from Jerusalem were closed Thursday night and school there was cancelled for Friday as the heaviest December storm since 1953 fell on the capital city.
Snow began falling in Jerusalem Thursday morning. The winter weather system, which began Tuesday night, intensified across the country.
Police blocked traffic on roads leading to the capital in both directions until 6 A.M. Friday, after snow fell on Highways 1 and 443. Highway 60 was also blocked in both directions between Gush Etzion and Ha’okfim Junction. The wintery weather is expected to continue today, and schools will be closed in Jerusalem, Ofakim and Arad.
Mount Hermon saw more snow Thursday, totaling 60 centimeters since Tuesday. Snow also pelted the northern city of Safed Thursday evening. Dozens of millimeters of rain have fallen in the greater Tel Aviv region, the Sharon and the Galilee since Wednesday night.
Schools in the capital and its environs were closed Thursday, as well as in Rahat, Umm al-Fahm, the regional councils of Ma’ale Iron, Neve Midbar and Al Kasum, and in Ofra, Psagot and Beit El. The Education Ministry has called upon parents to stay updated via the municipal hotline in their locality, by calling the school itself, or on the ministry’s Facebook page.
There were several weather-related incidents. In southern Israel. A car with nine children was swept away by a flood in the Garar River area Thursday. They were evacuated with the driver and airlifted to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva suffering light injuries from exposure. Ofakim’s water main exploded due to floods, leaving the southern town without tap water. A 45-year-old man was evacuated to Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin in moderate condition with hypothermia, after he was found lying on a street in the city of Lod.
The cold snap was forecast to continue Friday. As of Thursday night, Friday's forecast was rain and cold, with snow on the summits of the mountains in the north and center, and possibly on the summits of the southern hills as well. The rain will continue Saturday, when snow is expected to continue falling in the mountains. It will still be colder than usual. On Sunday the weather will be partly cloudy with a slight rise in temperatures. There is still a possibility of light local rain, and a possibility of frost at night.
Dr. Amos Porat of the Meteorological Service said, “At the moment we’re only in the initial stage of the present system.” Porat describes the anticipated system as one without a short beginning, middle and end: “It will enter gradually with cold air, rain and snow, with stronger and weaker waves. On Shabbat the system will decline gradually.”
The Metereological Service reported that since the beginning of the storm two days ago and up to Thursday afternoon, the largest amounts of rain, 40-60 mm., were measured in the southern Coastal Plain, the central mountain areas and the Sharon. The north and the center received 20-40 mm. and in the south there was almost no rain. In Kibbutz Negba, near Kiryat Malakhi, 55 mm. of rain fell in the past 24 hours, in Jerusalem 51 mm. and in Tel Aviv 41 mm.
The community of Harashim in the Galilee had 52 mm., Nahariya 41 mm. and Haifa only 14 mm.
Eli Ashkenazi, Yaniv Kubovich, Jack Khoury, Yarden Skop, Shirly Seidler, Zohar Blumenkrantz and Nir Hasson contributed to this report.
Courtesy of Israel Meteorological Service (Disruptions likely due to high traffic on IMS)