One Killed, One Missing as Severe Storms Flood South

Torrential downpours across the south of the country caused massive flooding yesterday, killing one woman, injuring others, and leaving some roads blocked or collapsed. One person was still missing as of last night, swept away by quickly rising floodwaters.

A four-wheel drive vehicle carrying stormchasers who came to see the flash flood near Ein Yahav overturned after the driver tried to ford a 200-meter-wide stream near the Jordanian border. The jeep, with the driver and two of his friends inside, was washed downstream before flipping over.

Sara Noy-Fogel of Moshav Orot was killed and Yoram Hochman of Nir Banim went missing, while his brother Alex Hochman was rescued. He was hospitalized in stable condition.

Volunteers from the Arava rescue unit, assisted by two helicopters and police and Border Police officers, worked through the afternoon to locate Yoram Hochman, without success. Rescuers fear that he was swept toward the Jordanian border, into an area that still contains land mines.

The Israel Defense Forces Liaison Unit has asked the Jordanian government to make rescue units from the kingdom available to help, if needed.

Tsur Ron, who was present at the incident, recounted what he saw.

"We saw the driver trying to go through and we kept telling him to stop. The current was really strong and after a few meters he was washed downstream for about a kilometer. At some point water came into the vehicle and one of the passengers got out. The vehicle rolled over and over. The guy who got out was swept downstrean and tried to grab hold of branches. Later the helicopter came and rescued them," Ron said.

During the search for Hochman, rescuers were called to search for a migrant worker from Thailand who was swept downstream near Moshav Idan together with the tractor he was driving. He was rescued unharmed.

Earlier yesterday Nahal Timna and other streams overflowed onto the Arava Road (Route 90), forcing its closure. The Eilat and Uvda airports were closed for most of the morning due to the weather.

Near Nahal Faran, on Route 40, two truckdrivers and one 18-year-old boy were trapped and washed downstream. They were rescued by an Israel Defense Forces helicopter.

The Uvda Valley, north of Eilat, was flooded by Nahal Hayon, which turned into a raging river nearly 500 meters in width near the entrance to the Israel Air Force base at Uvda.

By the afternoon, Eilat had received 18.5 millimeters of rainfall. Rain is rare in winter in Eilat, which usually gets its meager annual precipitation in the spring and fall. Slightly after 6 A.M. the streams that flow into the city from the west began carrying in huge amounts of water, from the Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve and from Sinai. The city's streets turned into raging rivers flowing to the sea, and some of the streets in the hotel area and the road to the south were flooded.

In addition to filling up the desert pools that provide drinking water for the area's wild animals, the flash floods in the desert serve to revive the flora and wash various contaminants out of the river beds.

Yesterday, Israel Nature and Parks Authority employees measured the rainfall and flooding in sites such as Nahal Yoash, Mount Yehoram and Mount Shlomo, near Eilat.

Due to an ongoing strike by Water Authority employees, however, complete data on precipitation amounts throughout the country is not available.

The Israel Airports Authority yesterday announced that the cargo terminal at Nitzana will not open as scheduled due to the collapse of the Nitzana bridge.

Communities in the Ramat Negev Regional Council, meanwhile, declared an emergency. School was canceled, as most of the area's roads were impassable due to flooding.

A convoy brought food in the late afternoon hours to isolated communities in the Pithat Nitzana area, which had been completely cut off.

The rain is expected to taper off today but the north and center will still see some precipitation. The south will see much less rain than yesterday.

Tomorrow the stormy weather will return to most of the country, with rain, and possibly thunderstorms, in the north and center. The rain in the south might be more sporadic but flooding is still a danger.

Snow is predicted for Mount Hermon today and tomorrow.