Families of Tel Aviv Couple Killed in Flooded Elevator Ask for Answers

Rescue services have yet to contact the families or respond to their questions about slow response time

Firefighters at the scene where a man drowned in an elevator, Tel Aviv, January 2020.
Israel Fire and Rescue Services

The families of Dean Yaakov Shoshani and Stav Harari, two young Israelis killed Saturday in a flooded elevator in south Tel Aviv, are wondering why rescue services were delayed, how the building had been approved and why the fire and police departments have yet to contact them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would meet with officials from the relevant agencies in an attempt to draw conclusions. The funeral took place Sunday near Tel Aviv after Shoshani and Harari, both 25, died the day before in the apartment building where they lived. 

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In the afternoon, the couple were trapped in an elevator in the parking lot of the building on Nadav Street in the Hatikva neighborhood, apparently because of a power outage. The parking lot was flooded after torrential rain hit Tel Aviv around noon.

At 12:20 P.M., as water rose inside the elevator, a passing neighbor walking around the building calling on residents to leave their cars heard them banging on the door and calling for help.

Other neighbors joined, and they phoned the fire and rescue service, but had difficulty getting through.

Stav Harari and Dean Shoshani.

Three hours later, Shoshani was freed from the elevator in critical condition, suffering from hypothermia. He later died at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. It took five hours to locate Harari, who was also in critical condition. She died at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

“How could it be that nobody has come to talk with the family, no official police representative, to tell us what happened,” asked a member of one of the families. “The infrastructure in the neighborhood has been neglected for years – the municipality doesn’t care about the neighborhood's residents. It’s criminal negligence.”

The fire service said it had received 2,735 calls within an hour and a half, of which firefighters were only able to handle 200. There had been no advance warning of the extreme weather, the fire service said.

Family members also asked why it took the rescue services so long, and how the building was able to receive a construction permit.

“There’s a creator, everything comes from him,” Shoshani’s father said. “It’s hard, fathers don’t bury sons.”

Shoshani says he isn’t blaming anyone. “A cloudburst like that happens once in 50 years. All that water simply went underground,” he said, adding that “nobody spoke to us – not the police, not the firefighters. There were representatives from the Tel Aviv municipality and the welfare services.”

Open questions

Saturday’s events raise questions about the preparedness of the authorities for extreme weather. The parking lot was built about a year and a half ago in line with the latest standards, but it was still flooded with hundreds of cubic meters of water that flowed in from the street. Although there is no suspicion of criminal activity, the police will investigate the cause of death.

The ramp leading from the street to the parking lot is at the correct height relative to the sidewalk. It is estimated that the flooding stemmed from a failure in the drainage system on Nadav Street, which is lower than the surrounding streets and where several one-story homes were also flooded.

The municipality rejected the claims about a defective drainage system and said its people had visited 200 homes throughout the city. It said the system was recently replaced in a project costing millions of shekels, and blamed climate change. “The municipality prepared for winter as it does every year, with the prevention of flooding from rain a top priority,” it said.

The fire and rescue service has launched an investigation into the delays and whether there was a staffing shortage. Residents said they had reported to the police about trapped people and flooding in the parking lot but waited a long time without assistance.

The police said they had received thousands of calls, but there was only one complaint from Nadav Street about flooding, with no mention of anyone trapped. The van that was dispatched arrived within a reasonable time, the police added.

A flooded street in Jaffa, January 4, 2020.
Ilan Assayag

The fire service investigation

Investigators said that at 1:13 P.M. the fire service was told that people may have been trapped in an elevator and that the parking lot and lobby were completely flooded. At 1:27 P.M. the shift commander reported that someone was definitely trapped in an elevator, but six minutes passed before a unit was sent out. It arrived at 1:51 P.M.

Regarding the authorities’ handling of the incident, a family member asked “how did it happen that it took the rescue services so long?”

The residents of the building also complained, saying that they tried dozens of times to call the hotlines. It took about 25 minutes before a neighbor managed to contact the Magen David Adom emergency services, which informed the fire and rescue service.

The fire and rescue service also reported an overload of its hotline, but said that its people arrived within less than an hour, as opposed to the residents’ claims. It said the incident in south Tel Aviv was very complicated and required time to understand and plan the rescue, which involved diving and sawing. By evening about 800 cubic meters of water had been pumped from the parking lot.