Israel breaks 50-year record for most rainfall in North, 76 years in South

Shlomo Ben Shabat, "hero" who drowned rescuing a mom and daughter in Nahariya, laid to rest; Mayor Ronen Marley: “The whole city was destroyed… The city was washed away.”

Bnei Yisrael reservoir in the Golan Heights flowing with water after the last rains (photo credit: ITAMAR COHEN/ TPS)
Bnei Yisrael reservoir in the Golan Heights flowing with water after the last rains
(photo credit: ITAMAR COHEN/ TPS)
Israel broke a more than 50-year record for the highest amount of rainfall in northern Israel on Thursday, according to the Israel Meteorological Service, as the heavy rains that have swept the nation over the last two weeks are expected to continue through Friday.
Emergency services remain on high alert across the country, and municipalities have put special measures in place, from positioning sandbags in key areas to clearing drainage systems, in an effort to prevent further casualties or damage.
In the northern coastal plain and Ramot Menashe, some 350 to 400 millimeters have accumulated over the last two weeks, and more than 400 mm. fell in the Western and Upper Galilee – in some areas reaching as much as 450 mm.
The service reported that this amount of rainfall over a two-week period is highly unusual. Since it began taking official rain measurements 80 years ago, such large quantities of rain have been measured in northern Israel only twice: in December 1951 and January 1969.
A record was also broken in southern Israel where, according to the meteorological service, some 122 mm. fell, breaking a 76-year-old record.
According to the Israel Insurance Association, about 45,000 claims have been made so far, totaling more than NIS 1.5 billion in damages. On Thursday, Interior Minister Arye Deri said that the government would invest NIS 5 million to assist with immediate needs.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms are expected to continue through the weekend, hitting the heaviest on central and southern Israel. In the northern Negev, there is concern that there could be flooding in river beds.
In the Hermon and northern Golan Heights, snow is expected and temperatures will be below average.
Throughout the day on Thursday, rescue workers and able citizens worked around the clock to rescue people, including hundreds of children, who became trapped by the floods.
At the Regavim High School in Moshav Emunim, located near Ashdod, students had to be evacuated by members of the Fire and Rescue Services on large inflatable boats and tractors, after all accesses to the school were blocked off due to the rain.
A preschool had to also be evacuated by rescue workers. Parents were on edge and the babies were crying as they were practically swum to safety.
In Rosh Ha’ayin, in the center of the country, a couple and their one-year-old toddler were forced to evacuate their home in a kayak, and several bakery workers in Gan Yavne were rescued after their establishment was flooded.
A number of intercity highways in the North and South were blocked due to flooding.
Channel 13 news shared scenes from Moshav Giv’ati in southern Israel, in which houses were flooded with muddy water that drowned couches and toilets, and left families fleeing the area.
Rescue forces said emergency centers around the country were packed due to the inclement weather. Magen David Adom teams were summoned to numerous locations where homes were flooded or vehicles were trapped in the water.
Several babies were delivered at home when women could not leave their residences in time due to the high water levels.
On Wednesday, when the rain was more heavily focused on northern Israel – Nahariya and large parts of Acre, Haifa and Krayot were flooded – 38-year-old Shlomo Ben Shabat died while trying to rescue a mother and daughter trapped in their car. He was swept away by the Ga’aton River and drowned; he was laid to rest on Thursday.
At his funeral, Nahariya’s mayor Ronen Marley referred to Ben Shabat as “the hero of the entire country.” President Reuven Rivlin sent a condolence letter to the Ben Shabat family in which he, too, referred to Ben Shabat as a hero.
“From time to time, in critical moments, we find heroes who shine down on us,”he said. “His bravery, his refusal to be a bystander, his courage, touched all our hearts – and are examples of humanity and mutual responsibility of the highest order.”
Speaking on Israeli radio, Marley said that at least NIS 300 million in damage has been caused to his city.
“The whole city was destroyed,” Marley said: “The city was washed away.”
He noted that the residents acted “amazingly,” and that if not for the valiant efforts of laymen, many more people could have been killed. He said that people left their homes and vehicles and took to the streets to help their fellow residents in need.
Amidst the tragedy and destruction, the good news is that the Sea of Galilee has jumped 26 centimeters since the start of the rainfall and, according to meteorologists, has only 2.07 meters lacking to be full.
The Jerusalem Post’s sister paper, Maariv, contributed to this report.