After the Storm |

Jerusalem’s Skies Clear, but Capital Still Far From Back to Normal

Coffee shops grew full and crowds descended on food stores, which ran out of basic products - mainly bread and milk - in no time.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

This past Sunday was true to its name in Jerusalem, with the weather turning kinder to the city under cloudless skies. People who went out wearing heavy coats and gloves were quick to shed them as the mercury finally rose.

But the capital was still far from back to normal. Public transport was still paralyzed, snow and fallen trees blocked many streets and thousands were still without power. Stores ran out of bread and Highway 1 to Tel Aviv opened only in the afternoon. It was still uncertain whether schools would be open on Monday.

In contrast, the Jerusalem municipality announced a snowman contest.

A tour of the city as it arose from the three-day snowstorm found a changed city − familiar streets looked different, narrowing to the width of a snow plow, navigated by the cars that could and by many pedestrians. Coffee shops were full and crowds descended on food stores, which ran out of basic products − mainly bread and milk − in no time.

Every street had at least three drivers trying to dig their cars out of their parking spot, struggling against mounds of snow that blanketed them. You can accuse Israelis of lots of things, but lack of inventiveness is not one of them. People with shovels were kings but others used anything they had: tennis rackets, boards and broken branches.

At first, plenty of cars got stuck on the streets, the slightest incline sending them into icy skids. But the sun took care of that problem and traffic began to flow, more or less, although there were many bottlenecks at which cars were stuck or people were walking in the traffic lanes.

The light rail − which was to have been the ultimate transportation for tough conditions − will apparently be the last means of transportation to come back on line, certainly not before last night, and then only partially. Some track has been cleared but the trains are still stuck on others, and there are problems removing the snow from the Chords Bridge at the entrance to the city.

The doctrine for snow removal in Jerusalem says vehicles trump pedestrians and so the roads are clear while the sidewalks are mountains of dense, glassy snow. From the Chords Bridge the view was magical. Police were trying to direct traffic on slowly opening Highway 1, while maintaining ambiguity in the media as to whether the highway was actually open. The road was still not at its best, and the police were afraid of the snow tourists from the Coastal Plain who will try to reach the city and make things more difficult.

The sun drew the three-day housebound Jerusalemites out like moths to a flame, trading stories on how they had weathered the storm and the blackout.

For example, Neria Wekzer and his girlfriend, students who live in Beit Hakerem, were among those caught on the road to Jerusalem Thursday night as the storm blew in. “A policeman stopped us and said they would open the road in an hour. At around midnight we realized it wasn’t going to happen, and we slept in the car.” At 5 A.M. they tried hitching to the city, but the car they caught a ride in got stuck. After walking a long way, they finally hitched a ride in the back of an army truck and reached the entrance to the city, from where they walked home. When they arrived on Friday morning, they found there was no electricity.

On Sunday, they tried to catch one of the two trains leaving the city. “We tried to catch a taxi and couldn’t; we walked to the Central Bus Station and took a bus to the Malha train station, which was bursting with people. My mother told us the previous train had gotten stuck and so we walked back home,” Wekzer said.

They weathered their freezing house with “lots of tea and candles,” they said, adding: It’s not a trauma, no need to exaggerate, it was an experience.”

Most Jerusalemites seemed to agree that in the final analysis the storm will go down in history as one to regale the grandkids with. But the difficulties should not be taken lightly. The cold, often a blackout, stuck with young children in the house, worried about the family and the fear of what might come. But the storm also brought out the best in people. The fact that it ended in the capital without deaths or serious injuries can be chalked up to proper action by the authorities, but was also due to mutual help, community organizations of every stripe and just plain good neighborliness.

In one street a man with a jeep went around helping people whose cars had gotten stuck, a woman prepared hot soup and looked for people who needed it, and young people looked after their elderly neighbors. Community centers operated like mini-municipalities, distributing blankets and food to the needy, and the social networks were flooded with offers to help.

The sky in Jerusalem has cleared, but the snow lingers. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
The Storm in Numbers, Dec. 16, 2013.
Jerusalemites venture outside as the storm subsides. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
The aftermath of the snowstorm in Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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