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Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem covered in snow, rest of the country flooded with rains
By SHARON UDASIN, LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI
12/12/2013
Storm leads to flooded and blocked roads across the country, with damage likely to reach NIS 50 million.
 
While Jerusalemites enjoyed a winter wonderland all day Thursday, rainfall deluged much of the rest of the country and created several dangerous circumstances.

Roads were closed, including the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, disrupting traffic in the nation’s capital and throughout the country, and dozens of traffic accidents were reported, but with no serious casualties.

Swept in an ongoing snowstorm, Jerusalem received between 10 and 15 centimeters of snow throughout the day, depending on the area in the city, Dr. Amos Porat, director of the Climate Department at Israel Meteorological Services (IMS), told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday evening. The snowfall over the central mountain peaks, including Jerusalem and Gush Etzion would likely continue through Saturday, according to IMS forecasts.

“I believe that tonight and tomorrow and also Saturday we will get more snow,” Porat said.

Dozens of cars were stuck in the snow in the capital.

Below the mountainous regions, the flood conditions that drenched the country’s central region led to some critical situations. In the Eshkol Region, a stream turned into a gushing river and swept along a van containing nine children and a driver. The air force’s 669 helicopter rescue unit, together with Fire and Rescue units and police, rescued the stranded people and airlifted them to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where they were said to be in good condition, suffering mainly from cold.

Precipitation led to road blockages throughout the country, shutting down a portion of Road 1 – the main thoroughfare from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – during the late morning. For several hours from Thursday morning through early afternoon, the Egged bus company discontinued the operation of all lines to and from Jerusalem, as well as city bus operations within snowy Jerusalem. Also due to the harsh weather conditions, the company decided to cancel its night lines connecting Tel Aviv and the capital.

By 2:30 p.m., Egged reported that the daily intercity lines from Jerusalem to and from Tel Aviv and other cities were gradually resuming operations. Some of Jerusalem’s internal city lines also began operating on an emergency schedule. The 16 special lines were not numbered and followed specific routes available to passengers in the “updates” section of Egged’s Hebrew website.

According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, the Jerusalem municipality received some 10,000 phone calls by Thursday afternoon regarding road closings.

Rosenfeld said that 2,000 additional calls came from people reporting vehicular problems and electrical disturbances.

“The Command Center will be working in conjunction with the municipality throughout today and tomorrow,” he said.

Disruptions in transportation also plagued Gush Etzion and other Judea and Samaria regions, particularly along Road 90. Several segments of Road 90 in the South were completely blocked in the early afternoon, and the portion from Ein Gedi to Ein Bokek remained obstructed by evening, according to Netivei, the Israel National Roads Company. A portion of Road 60 in the Gush Etzion region was closed down by evening due to snow, the company said.

The Education Ministry opened a situation room on Thursday to alert parents throughout the country about school closings. The Jerusalem Municipality announced the cancellation of schools and kindergartens early in the morning and issued a statement urging parents to avoid driving in the snow and “to exercise judgment and not take any risks.”

The Education Ministry reported school closures in Kiryat Arba, Mevaseret Zion, Efrat, Beit El, Abu Gosh, Tzur Hadassah and the Gush Etzion region. Meanwhile, the Binyamin Regional Council announced additional closures in Psagot, Shiloh, Ma’aleh Levona, Eli and Ofra.

In Southern Israel, the councils of El Kasum, Hebron Hills, Neveh Midbar, Tamar, Rahat, Segev Shalom and Yeroham all canceled classes as well. Schools in the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee remained open, while closures were reported in Jat, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Umm al-Fahm, Ma’aleh Iron and Kfar Ke’era.

The Gush Etzion Regional Council announced on Thursday night that there would be no school on Friday morning.

The decision was due to the fact that the storm intensified in the preceding hours and snow continued to build up, the council said. As of 8 p.m. on Thursday, the council also announced a closure of the Neherot checkpoint in the southern direction, as well as the Ein Yael checkpoint in the Gush Etzion direction and the Lamed-Hay checkpoint.

The Beitar checkpoint was already closed as of the afternoon.

Despite all the closures, the Gush Etzion Regional Council maintained that the snowy conditions were “unique and magical.”

Israeli property damage from the winter storm is likely to reach NIS 50 million, according to estimates by the Repair Contractors Association.

The association said that most of the damage to property and structures would result from falling objects, such as trees, and water making its way into buildings.

“The greatest damage is to roof apartments and paved roofs, which suffered from water penetration due to inadequate sealing,” association chairman Eran Siv said. “Likewise, in many cases leaks were discovered from higher floors to lower ones, which caused property damage.”

The Gaza Strip also experienced a deluge of dangerous rainfalls on Thursday, leaving more than 31 people injured in accidents and causing poorly built homes to collapse in icy rain, Reuters reported.

The West Bank was stormy as well. Many Palestinian schools there were closed down and public transportation was briefly suspended, the report added.

Several electricity outages occurred throughout Israel both overnight Wednesday and during the day Thursday. All through the night, workers repaired issues, and two workers ended up stranded at Masada from Wednesday evening through Thursday due to floods, an Israel Electric Corporation spokeswoman said.

One malfunction that occurred was damage to a high voltage line and wires in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel, which was quickly resolved, the IEC reported.

The repair process of electricity outages at Kibbutz Ein Gedi on Thursday morning was delayed due to the flood blockages of Road 90, the spokeswoman said. Power there too was ultimately restored by Thursday afternoon, however.

By evening, the IEC reported power glitches in the Tel Aviv neighborhoods of Neveh Avivim and Ramat Aviv, which the company said workers were in the process of resolving. Farther south, in Arad, trees fell on a high voltage line that evening, and IEC crews were fixing the resultant outages, the firm added.

In response to a radio report earlier Thursday that said 25,000 customers had lost power, the IEC spokeswoman told the Post that this was an estimation. In the context of the company’s 2.5 million customers, 25,000 customers losing power represents a very small percentage, she explained.

In the Galilee region, workers spent the day evacuating toppled trees from stream channels and Jordan River drainage ditches, the Kinneret Drainage and River Authority said.

After a stormy January that caused heavy damage to agriculture and property in the country’s North, the authority invested NIS 2 million in conducting extensive rehabilitations of the infrastructure in the Galilee and Hula Valley regions.

Over the course of the past year, the authority said that workers had elevated the batteries of the eastern and western Jordan River trenches to curb overflow, and had removed all obstacles potentially blocking drainage canals.

Workers had also dug trenches for drainage in agricultural zones and fortified the banks of streams at risk of erosion.

“It’s hard to accurately predict weather damages, but we are doing our best in order to prepare for any event in advance and to provide a response, if necessary, for local residents and farmers during the events themselves,” said Ran Molcho, an engineer for the Kinneret Drainage and River Authority.

Although inclement weather conditions may have battered certain regions and made roads impassable, Lake Kinneret has reaped the benefits of the rainy days. The basin rose another centimeter on Thursday morning – and a total of three centimeters in the past week – bringing the basin’s water level up to 211.37 meters below sea level, the Water Authority said. Lake Kinneret is currently 2.57 meters from reaching full capacity.

In the 24 hours from Wednesday at 8 a.m. to Thursday at 8 a.m., the largest amounts of rain – between 60 and 100 millimeters – fell in the hills of Judea, Gush Etzion, the southern Coastal Plain and the northern Negev, according to IMS data.

Efrat’s IMS station recorded 113 millimeters for this time period, while Beersheba measured 71 millimeters, the greatest amount of daily rainfall recorded there since 1921.

“These quantities are daily rain records at a portion of these regional stations,” an IMS statement said.

From the beginning of this storm system – Tuesday afternoon – through Thursday at 4 p.m., Jerusalem received 115 millimeters of rain, while Tel Aviv received significantly less, at 69 millimeters, the IMS said.

Because regular measures for snowfall do not exist as they do for rain, it is much more difficult to calculate snow accumulations, IMS’s Porat said. Reports indicated that Jerusalem received between seven and 15 centimeters of snow depending on the area, while the Gush Etzion region received a bit more.

Aside from Mount Hermon, the North received much less precipitation on Thursday than did the Center, and Mitzpe Ramon had not yet received any snow, Porat said.

Through Saturday, Porat predicted that snow would continue to fall in Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, with possible dusting in Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev.

The North should receive some snow during the next few days.

Tovah Lazaroff, Niv Elis and Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.
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