Floods Cause Millions in Damage to Israel's Agricultural Resources

Security forces in Negev begin gauging extent of flood damage and planning rehabilitation measures.

Authorities estimated Tuesday that the damage to agricultural resources caused by Monday's flooding may reach tens of millions of shekels. The Israel Meteorological Service said precipitation measured in the Negev plateau Monday was the highest on record.

Meanwhile, Tuesday morning the body of missing hiker Yoram Hochman, 56, of Moshav Nir Banim, was identified several kilometers from where he was last seen slogging through floodwaters in the Arava Valley.

The body of one of Hochman's fellow hikers, 55-year-old Sarah Noy-Fogel, was found Monday in Nahal Arava, where she, Hochman and Hochman's brother Alex had driven to watch flash flooding before being swept away by the current. Alex Hochman was rescued Monday.

A helicopter rescue team from the elite Unit 669 removed Hochman's body from a location three kilometers from where the vehicle in which the three were traveling was swept away by the floodwaters.

Rescuers, including Border Police officers and volunteers from Nir Banim, were faced with difficult conditions and the danger of active mines along the Jordanian border. After identifying the vehicle, troops spotted Hochman's body on a dry patch in the stream. The commander of the Arava Rescue Unit, Elad Sacker, said the body was found three kilometers north of Moshav Ein Yahav in the central Arava Valley.

Meanwhile, security forces in the Negev began gauging the extent of flood damage and planning rehabilitation measures. Israel Defense Forces troops Tuesday reopened traffic on Route 10, which runs along Israel's border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, in an effort to allow the 500 residents of Nitzana and surrounding communities access to food and water.

"The army opened up civilian transportation on Route 10, which is usually used only by military vehicles," said Eran Doron, director of the emergency preparedness center at Ramat Negev Regional Council. "Residents can now get in their cars and reach anywhere in the country."

Nonetheless, much infrastructure in the southern region is still out of service. "It's starting to look like one big fiasco," Hemi Tzemach of Kibbutz Kadesh Barnea said. "Bezeq [phone operator] still hasn't done anything, the Public Works Authority has yet to bring a single bulldozer and there is no electricity on the moshav in the greenhouses, vineyards, factory or packing house. There is still no running water, and for nearly 48 hours the greenhouses haven't received water. We also can't receive e-mails or faxes."

Access to agricultural areas across the south remains limited today, and many farmers still don't know the extent of the damage to their crops and equipment.

"There is a lot of damage to agriculture and infrastructure. We're talking about millions of shekels," Doron said.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz Tuersday ordered his ministry to take immediate action to repair the destroyed Nitzana bridge, a project that could cost tens of millions of shekels.

"Due to the urgency of reconnecting the residents of Israel's western border region [with the rest of the country] and allowing them to quickly return to their daily routines, the director general of my ministry, Yaakov Ganot, today reached an agreement with Finance Ministry officials for the immediate budgeting of a new bridge," Katz said.

Flooding took a heavy toll in the Gaza Strip as well, as at least one hundred homes suffered damage in the southeastern portion of the coastal territory. Families living in the worst-affected regions were evacuated by authorities, and the Hamas government in Gaza vowed to offer financial assistance. Five children hurt in the flooding were admitted to hospitals in Gaza for treatment.

Hamas blamed Israel for allegedly opening a dam in a nearby stream and thereby flooding the area, a charge Israel vehemently denied.

After Tuesday's respite from heavy rain, today will again be stormy, though the southern region will not be deluged with the same heavy precipitation it experienced on Sunday.

Showers will fall from Israel's north to the northern Negev, accompanied by thunderstorms. Much of the Negev, however, will see only scattered precipitation, though meteorologists warned of possible flooding in the Judean Desert and Dead Sea regions.