Israeli authorities named the nine teenagers who were killed Thursday when they were swept away by a flash flood during a hike at Nahal Tsafit, south of the Dead Sea.
Ella Or, from the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim; Gali Belali, from the central city of Givatayim; Agam Levi, from Moshav Herut in central Israel; Shani Samir, from the central town of Shoham; Adi Ra’anan, from the coastal community of Mikhmoret; Yael Sadan and Maayan Barhum from Jerusalem; Romi Cohen, from Moshav Maor in the north and Tzur Alfi, from the central town of Mazkeret Batya. The communities are working to create an extensive support network for families and friends coping with the loss of their loved ones.
>> Nine teenagers killed after flash floods hit Israel's south ■ Israel opens investigation into flash flood deaths ■ 'We're going to die': Text messages reveal teenage flood victim feared for her life on hike >>
The nine hikers, eight girls and one boy of around 18 years old, were part of a group of about 25 who were hiking in the vicinity of the stream as part of a pre-army program. The Ben Tzion pre-army program, called a mechina in Hebrew, is pluralistic, with religious and secular Israelis who take a year between high school and the army to study, volunteer and travel around Israel.
One member of the group is still missing. A search party has found the body of a teenage girl of around 17 in the Dead Sea area, but authorities do not yet know whether it is the body of the missing teen. The search for the missing person, conducted by police volunteers and Israeli army rescue helicopters, stopped as night fell. Fifteen other members of the group were rescued, two of whom were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva with hypothermia.
Text messages show that one of the girls who was killed told friends she was worried for her safety on the hike, the Israel Television News Company reported. "I can't believe I'm actually going hiking in weather like this. It doesn't make sense to go to a place that's completely flooded. It's tempting fate. We're going to die – I'm serious," she wrote to her friends on the messaging application WhatsApp.
Israel Police has opened an investigation into the deaths, with the focus expected to be on the organizers of the program on suspicion of death by negligence. At this stage, however, police efforts will remain focused on finding the one hiker who remains missing.
All of the agencies responsible for collecting rainfall and flooding information in the south issued rather clear warnings on Wednesday and Thursday regarding the risk of flooding in the area where the group was hiking near the Tzafit stream. The Israel Meteorological Service also issued a warning on the risk of flooding in the Dead Sea region, the southern Judean Desert and the Arava. It should be noted that even relatively small quantities of rainfall in the desert can cause powerful flood waters.
"Israel grieves the promising young lives that were cut off by this tragedy in the Arava," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the news. "We embrace the families with grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded."
President Reuven Rivlin wrote about the flood on Twitter, saying "Our thoughts and prayers go to our brothers, children, our loved ones, and those in danger. We're following the situation in the south closely and are sending a warm embrace to the effected families. We will strengthen and lend help to the forces who are currently working to rescue, find and treat those injured. I ask all to please follow their instructions."
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