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Israelis continue to cope with post-storm challenges
By SHARON UDASIN, LIDAR GRAVÉ-LAZI, AND NIV ELLIS
16/12/2013
Many of the country’s roads remained blocked to traffic due to buildups of snow, ice and flooding conditions on Sunday.
 
Although the country woke up to sunnier skies on Sunday morning, residents were still struggling to cope with electricity outages, flood conditions and property damages in the aftermath of a powerful four-day storm.

Many of the country’s roads remained blocked to traffic due to buildups of snow, ice and flooding conditions on Sunday.

Although Road 1 was reopened to public and private vehicles heading to and leaving Jerusalem during the day, by evening, buses ceased running to and from as well as within the city.

Meanwhile, by nighttime on Sunday, 14,000 households – about 0.56 percent of the Israel Electric Corporation’s customers – still lacked electricity.

Despite the chaos still affecting many of the nation’s citizens, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the situation with words of optimism at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

“Thanks to the determination of the security and rescue forces, and to the cooperation among citizens, many lives have been saved,” Netanyahu said.

“The State of Israel is coping very well with the great storm. I believe that we performed better than advanced countries that are hit by such storms more frequently, or countries that suffer such storms, and we see the results with us.

“I can say that we are pleased, first of all, that we achieved the main goal – saving lives. This is what has guided us from start to finish and will continue to guide us because it is not over yet.”

Four people were killed in storm-related incidents over the weekend.

Two men were discovered in a flooded creek bed near Arad on Saturday evening, while an infant boy was killed by a space heater fire in Lod on Saturday morning and a man in Rishon Lezion slipped to his death on Friday night. After closing down the access roads to Jerusalem for the entire weekend, police once again opened Road 1 and Road 443 to both public and private traffic throughout the day on Sunday.

The public transportation situation in and around the nation’s capital fluctuated throughout the day on Sunday. Buses to and from Jerusalem operated all day in a limited fashion, while urban bus lines within the city only gradually began running in the early afternoon.

As temperatures dropped and slippery conditions emerged on Sunday night, however, bus operations to and from the city ceased, and about two hours later so too did the urban lines.

Buses to the Ein Gedi and Dead Sea region were still not running as of Sunday afternoon, due to flooded road conditions.

In Safed, all bus lines were still inactive on Sunday except for line 361, which Egged was operating on an abbreviated route.

In addition to encountering road closures and unreliable transportation, many Israelis still faced electrical outages as a result of the storm.

By Sunday night, an IEC spokeswoman said that 14,000 households were still without power, with about half of those customers residing in and around Jerusalem.

Although a chunk of residents was still without electricity on Sunday, during the day electricity demand climbed to a record-breaking 11,640 megawatts, the IEC said.

The day before, the Tamar natural gas reservoir pumped its largest amount of gas yet for one day, according to the Delek Group, one of the stakeholders in the reservoir. The amount of gas released – 1 billion cubic feet – allowed for the resource to constitute 70% of the country’s electricity supply rather than the typical daily 50%, and helped make IEC operations more efficient, the company said.

In many places around the country, children would have yet another day off from school on Monday.

The Jerusalem Municipality announced schools and kindergartens would remain closed Monday due to the damages to educational institutions and safety hazards posed to students throughout the city.

The Education Ministry also announced school closures in Mevaseret Zion and Safed, on the Golan Heights and in other towns surrounding Jerusalem.

Agriculture Ministry director- general Rami Cohen estimated that storm damage to agriculture had reached the equivalent of tens of millions of shekels, his office announced on Sunday.

From the hundreds of calls received from farmers throughout the country over the weekend, the ministry said that the worst hit crops were those growing in open fields in the country’s Center, where they were exposed to unusual cold.

Many farms in the North also suffered, due to disruptions in the power supplies necessary to their chicken coops and cattle barns.

Despite the damages, the ministry praised the advance preparations undertaken by drainage authorities across the country, which prevented flooding in many cases and even more significant breakdowns.

On Sunday evening, ministry officials will be meeting with agricultural organizations to formulate the steps that are necessary to cope with farmers’ losses, the ministry said.

The Kanat – Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture – also reported receiving hundreds of calls about crop crises and went so far as to estimate about NIS 100 million in farming damages from the storm.

Like the Agriculture Ministry, Kanat said that a preliminary review indicated that the heaviest damages occurred in open vegetable fields, particularly where crops like potatoes, onions and leafy vegetables grow. Most of these fields, the insurance fund agreed, were located in central as well as southern Israel.

Nonetheless, the fund also identified damages to many greenhouses due to strong winds as well as harm to orchards and avocado plantations as a result of hail storms.

Like the Agriculture Ministry, Kanat described heavy damage to chicken coops in the North.

To overcome the expected shortage of fresh vegetables, and to prevent a jump in prices following the storm, the Agriculture Ministry approved on Sunday night the duty-free import of cucumbers from Jordan and will likely grant similar approvals for tomatoes and zucchini if necessary, the ministry said.

For public workers unable to get to work due to the weather, the civil service commission provided a half-day of vacation time.

On Sunday, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett urged private businesses to follow suit.

“We are in a period of a day or two that requires solidarity, and I believe that every employer can find a way to help their workers in these times,” he said.

The Kinneret, as well as the nation’s aquifers, reaped the benefits of the mega-storm, with large amounts of rain falling in the North, the Center and the western Negev.

Since the beginning of the storm on Wednesday through Saturday night, the Kinneret’s water level rose 10 cm., bringing it to 211.3 meters below sea level, the Water Authority said.

The basin is missing 2.50 meters from reaching full capacity.

Out of all the water-drenched regions, the western Negev received the greatest quantities, at approximately 200 mm., the Water Authority said.

The rains also led to strong flows in the Shikma, Lachish, Basor and Ayalon streams.

At Nahal Shikma, located in the western Negev, such strong flows occur only once every 25 years, the Water Authority said.

In the Ayalon, however, the flow was not able to top that of last January, when enthusiasts went tubing down the river and its adjacent overflowed highway.

While flow rate reached 400 cubic meters per second in January 2013, during this storm it reached only 180 cubic meters per second, the Water Authority said.

Stream flows in the Lake Kinneret drainage system strengthened until Friday, but these flow levels were not considered abnormal, the Water Authority said.

All in all throughout the storm, Jerusalem received between 40 and 50 cm. of snow, while Gush Etzion and the Hebron mountains received between 60 and 70 cm., according to Israel Meteorological Services (IMS).

Only three snow events in the past century rivaled or surpassed this weekend’s conditions in Jerusalem – 97 cm. in February of 1920, 50 cm. in February of 1950 and between 40 and 45 cm. in February of 1992, the IMS said.

As far as rains are concerned, the central and southern Coastal Plain received the most during the storm, accumulating between 200 and 250 mm., and even up to 250 to 300 mm. in the Gaza Strip, the IMS reported.

The hills of Judea and Samaria received between 170 and 220 mm., while the Tel Aviv and Sharon regions gained between 150 and 180 mm. In the northwest Negev, about 110 to 140 mm. of rain fell, while the Lake Kinneret and Hula Valley areas received between 70 and 80 mm., the IMS said. The northern Coastal Plain and the hills of the Galilee received between 100 and 150 mm.

“These rain amounts exceed the average for the month of December for the Center and South, and in some areas even reached two to three times monthly quantities,” a statement from the IMS said.

Over the course of the storm, the country experienced unseasonably low temperatures, with the thermometer falling as low as -0.4 degrees Celsius in Jerusalem on Friday, according to IMS data.

In Safed, the temperature remained below freezing all of that day.

Heading into Monday, the country may wake up to frost conditions in some areas, the IMS said.

Although temperatures will continue to rise, they will still remain unseasonably cool for the rest of the week, the meteorologists predicted.

Daniel K. Eisenbud and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.
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