Floods Make Some People's Day, Ruin Others'

By yesterday morning the overnight flood that struck Nahal David, one of the most picturesque and visited sites in the Judean Desert, had turned into light trickle.

A segment of Route 90 - the highway that runs alongside the Dead Sea - had turned into just another portion of the stream, as rocks, flora and assorted debris covered the pavement.

The main thoroughfare's sudden disappearance once again forced area residents, tourists and visiting scientists to reconsider nature's capacity to destroy man's best-laid plans.

The floods, however, like nearly every natural phenomenon evident in the Dead Sea region, are also the result of man's actions. The dramatic drop in the Dead Sea's water level over the past few decades (the result of diversion to the Jordan River) has had a direct impact on the magnitude of flooding.

Public Works Authority employees responsible for maintaining the stretch of Route 90 along the Dead Sea surely have one of the most frustrating jobs in the country. The crew is forced to contend with floods that transform the highway into an unpaved dirt road.

Few area residents were in sight yesterday, preferring to stay home rather than battle the treacherous driving conditions. Instead, the road was filled with unlucky truck drivers stuck in the mud, public works employees and a handful of scientists studying flooding.

The main attraction now in the northern Dead Sea area is the waterfall created at Nahal Qumran, so thoroughly flooded as to appear as if it belonged in a jungle rather than the desert.

"Flood tourists" convened at the base of the falls, owners of four-wheel drive vehicles who each winter chase water across the desert.

For Reuven Blamaker, flooding means work. Yesterday he stood in shorts and boots at the center of another flooded stream in the area, Nahal Hever, collecting muddy water in bottles.

Blamaker is a researcher at the Geological Survey of Israel and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His doctoral work examined the chemical composition of water flowing down from mountains into the Dead Sea to understand the ancient body of water that preceded what is today one the world's saltiest body of water.

"Often when there is a flood it is an annoyance, because there are other things to do. But today it's nice, because this is a rare event," he said.

Nearby sat four truck drivers observing the public works employees trying to clear the road.

"They told us it would be four more hours until we could go through," said Adnan Abu Gharbieh of Ramle. "I've been here two hours, but they tell me to wait, so I wait. At least it looks pretty."

Also waiting is a group of Hungarian tourists bound for Masada.

"This is our first day in Israel. This wasn't planned, but it's an experience that will last longer," one of them, Prof. Szili Laszlo, said with a smile.