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Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Police, IDF called in to help motorists stranded in snow in Jerusalem; BG Airport shut temporarily
By SHARON UDASIN, LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI
13/12/2013
Jerusalem Mayor Barkat says city facing "a rare storm, the likes of which we've never seen"; turns to IDF's Gantz, J'lem district police chief for help in freeing trapped drivers as snowfall continues to pound capital.
 
Police worked to help dozens of drivers stranded on Jerusalem's streets and on the entry roads into the capital as heavy snow continued to fall on the city early Friday morning.

IDF vehicles and snow plows were also aiding police and municipality employees in efforts to aid the motorists.

Ben Gurion International Airport was closed on Friday and would remain closed for at least an hour due to the storm battering the country.

Two incoming flights were redirected to Larnaca, Cyprus.

Drivers stranded on Route 1 and Route 443 at the entrance to Jerusalem were being brought to emergency help centers established at the Jerusalem Convention Center, in Mevaseret Zion and at the Ofer military camp. Police said that by Friday morning they had assisted 1400 stranded motorists in the capital and in the highways leading to the city.

The roads remained closed as of Friday morning.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat turned to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Jerusalem District police chief Yossi Pariente for help in evacuating the motorists.

"We are currently using all means available to save the people stuck in the storm. Only after the weather calms will we be able to open all of the roadways in the city," Barkat said Friday morning,  adding that the city was facing "a battle against a rare storm, the likes of which we have never seen."

The municipality called on drivers to avoid coming to Jerusalem and instructed the city's residents to stay off the roads until the storm had subsided.

Due to heavy rains and snow conditions in many parts of the country, Police
issued a general advisory on Friday morning for the public not to leave their homes.

Police said that there was an increased risk of fatality for drivers in the current conditions.

Swept in an ongoing snowstorm, Jerusalem received between 30 centimeters and half a meter of snow by Friday morning depending on the area in the city, Israel Radio reported. The snowfall over the central mountain peaks, including Jerusalem and Gush Etzion was expected to let up by around noon on Friday according to IMS forecasts.

Electricity was cut on Friday morning to thousands of homes in Jerusalem and in the surrounding area due to downed tree branches that fell on power lines in snowstorm.

Israel Electric Company repair crews were having difficulties reaching the power lines due to snow on the roads.  

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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