Two Die in Flooded Elevator in Tel Aviv as Heavy Storms Hit Israel

Eleven other people were injured as a result of extreme weather conditions as Tel Aviv received 20 percent of its average yearly rainfall within a few hours

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

Two people in their 30s drowned Saturday in a flooded elevator in a residential building in south Tel Aviv, as heavy rainfall swept through Israel.

The two were trapped when the elevator locked automatically in the building's flooded parking garage, apparently due to an electrical shortage. The man died at the scene and the woman was taken to Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv in critical condition, suffering from severe hypothermia, where her death was declared.

"I am shocked at the tragic death of two residents of Tel Aviv who were killed in the elevator disaster," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, adding he was working "to clarify how this happened and how similar disasters might be prevented in the future."

The flooded building in which two people died in the elevator, Tel Aviv, January 4, 2020. Credit: Israel Fire and Rescue Services

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Magen David Adom also reported that 11 other people were injured and required treatment Saturday, as a result of the weather conditions. 

Flooding in Yaffo

The commander of the Dan district fire and rescue services, Ronen Machtayeb, said the man and the woman were apparently a couple and were trying to get to their car via the elevator. “The parking garage was flooded and under severe conditions and with zero visibility… divers reached the elevator shaft and opened the door.”

The tragedy occurred as thunderstorms and hail struck most of the country on Saturday. Roads in the greater Tel Aviv area and in the north were flooded. Snow fell in the northern Golan Heights and on Mount Meron. According to Meteo-Tech meteorological services, there is a chance of flooding in the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert.

A flooded street in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2020.Credit: Dorar Bakri

Residents of the building, on Nadav Street in south Tel Aviv, said they reported to the police that they saw a great deal of water leaking from the garage, but no one came to the scene. One of the neighbors, who had begun to knock on doors to tell the residents to move their cars because the garage was flooding, said he heard someone knocking on the elevator calling for help. Neighbors said rescue services came only after they went onto their balconies and called out when they spotted a municipal worker.

Police said in response that they had received one call from the area reporting flooding but not that anyone was trapped. They also said police arrived quickly at the scene and that firefighters were dealing with the situation.

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

Shimon Chelouche, who lives near the flooded building, told Haaretz: “My parents were stuck and called for help. I saw their heads above the water. All the electrical appliances were ruined, all the beds. I saw the teams arrive, they’ve been saying for years that they’d fix the infrastructure and they’ve done nothing. This building has been flooding since I was a baby.”

Moshe, an asylum seeker who lived in the area said: “The whole street was flooded; the water was up to our knees in the house. The children were on their beds to get away from it. We brought a ladder to rescue them. The [authorities] didn’t help us even though we asked.”

The main thoroughfares of Namir Road and Menachem Begin Boulevard in Tel Aviv were partially flooded, and drivers were warned away from these and other areas by police on duty at the scene. Drainage overflowed in the center-city streets of Ahad Ha’am, Mohilever and Hovevei Zion.

Flooding in Jaffa

Extreme storm

According to the municipality it had prepared for rain, but the storm on Saturday was extreme. The municipality said Tel Aviv got 20 percent of its annual average rainfall in a few hours on Saturday.

According to Water Authority data, 74 millimeters of rain fell in Tel Aviv in two hours, and about 50 millimeters fell within half an hour. In the Galilee and Carmel areas, 30 millimeters fell by the afternoon, according to MetaTech.

Snow in the Northern Golan Heights, January 4, 2020. Credit: Gil Eliahu

Meanwhile, rainfall in the north has not affected the Sea of Galilee significantly rate of elevation, which has risen about 3 centimeters in the past three days, and as of this morning was 211.50 centimeters below sea level. In the central region, some of the streams developed weak to medium currents following the rains. Ayalon River had a stronger flow for several hours.

Many streets in Jaffa were also flooded, with water reaching the windows of parked vehicles. Main streets in Ramat Gan and Bnei Brak were closed. The Rokach exit from the Ayalon Freeway northbound was closed due to flooding as was the entrance to the freeway northbound at the Shalom interchange.

The road leading to Wolfson Hospital in Holon was also blocked due to flooding.

Streets in the northern coastal communities of Atlit and Kibbutz Neveh Yam were also flooded after the drainage system in the nearby highway, Route 2, collapsed. Earlier Saturday firefighters rescued a man trapped in his car in an underpass near the northern coastal community of Moshav Bustan Hagalil, where the water reached 1.5 meters high.

Mount Hermon was closed on Saturday due to the weather.

Sunday’s weather will continue rainy and cold, with the rain letting up in the afternoon. Rain is expected to stop Monday, which will be partly cloudy and warmer, and is expected to return on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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