Cause of Mysterious 'Trapped Energy' Found, Tel Aviv Municipality Says

Damage to infrastructure, whose cause is still unknown, caused short-circuit that heated up water pooled underground

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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Steam coming out of the ground in Tel Aviv's Ibn Gabirol Street
Steam coming out of the ground in Tel Aviv's Ibn Gabirol StreetCredit: Twitter
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

A mysterious incident Thursday in which the ground in a Tel Aviv city block began heating up and emitting steam, leading to the the evacuation of two apartment buildings, was caused by a damaged underground electric cable, the municipality said Sunday.

The Tel Aviv Municipality statement explained that the cable short-circuiting caused energy to be trapped and water underground to evaporate on Ibn Gabirol street, near the Yarkon River. According to the municipality, the short-circuit was caused by damage to the electrical infrastructure, and its contact with the pooled water caused it to heat. The cause of the damage is still unknown.

The site of the investigation near Ibn Gabirol Street in Tel Avlv, Jan. 2, 2021.

The Israel Electric Company said that it is examining the possibility that the damage was caused by private infrastructure work carried out in the area in the past.  

According to the municipality's examination, there is no concern of a hazardous substance leak or that buildings at the site will collapse.

On Thursday, residents of an apartment building on the northern end of Ibn Gabirol Street noticed steam coming out of the ground. Tests showed that the steam, which reached temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit), was water-based. Residents, as well as kindergartens in the area, were evacuated.

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About two weeks ago, a resident contacted Modi Feldberg, the head of the apartment owners’ committee in one of the buildings, to report that a concrete surface outside their building was heating up. “I took off my sandal and stepped on the concrete. I almost got burned,” Feldberg recounted. He said he looked around and noticed steam coming out of the adjacent buildings.

“I was afraid there was a power line in the area, and I asked a laborer to dig into the ground with a shovel. All of a sudden, steam came out. I imagined that it was probably a geyser. It appeared to me to be a geological incident – also because there haven’t been any problems with the electricity in the building.”

Feldberg felt he had no choice but to coordinate the response. “I called 106 [the municipal call center], but they said they don’t go onto private yards. So I called the police.”

The police immediately dispatched rescue personnel and set up a command center there. “It was a mess. There was no one in charge. They simply grabbed the residents out of the apartments,” Feldman claimed.

The dozens of evacuated residents were notified Saturday that they could return to their homes.

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