The forces of nature pounded Kiryat Shmona Tuesday with massive downpours that flooded the Eshkol neighborhood with two meters of water. Houses had up to a meter of water inside and firefighters waded through the streets to aid in the evacuation of people and pets.
While it had been raining in the Upper Galilee's panhandle since Sunday, the intensity of the downpours increased Monday night. Firefighter First-Sergeant Major Shimon Ohayon, who was shift commander on Tuesday morning, said that emergency hot lines started ringing at 10 a.m. as citizens reported flash flooding in the low-lying neighborhood.
Four firefighting teams responded to a total of ten calls for assistance, wading through waters too deep for emergency services vehicles. In addition to rescuing people and pets, firefighters worked to make sure that gas tanks that had been dislodged by the rushing water and gas lines that had been ripped open would not lead to explosions.
Ohayon said that while Kiryat Shmona had been hit by flash floods before, Monday's deluge was the worst since the town was founded in 1949. Heavy rainstorms in the winter of 2003 also led to flash flooding in low-lying areas, but while streets were rendered impassable, no evacuations were required.
Ohayon said that unlike in Tel Aviv, where emergency teams were outfitted with inflatable boats, Kiryat Shmona's firefighters had no such equipment. "We waded through water that was stomach deep. It was hard, but in these situations, our goal is to save lives at all costs."
He said that the most moving rescue was when firefighters woke up a young woman who slept as her home filled with water. After the waters receded, she thanked the rescue team, saying that had they not saved her, the outcome would have been much worse.
Guy Solomon, 25, a resident of Eshkol, said he learned of the flooding when a neighbor came and woke him up.
"I saw a neighbor of mine who just bought a new car - a '98 Mazda. He had worked so hard, for months, to buy the car and he came outside to find it swimming in the floodwaters," Solomon told The Jerusalem Post while making his way through stinking mud and refuse deposited by the floodwaters in streets, sidewalks and courtyards. "When he saw the car, totally ruined by the flood, he just started crying," he said.
The flooding was exacerbated by a stream that overflowed its banks and clogged storm drains.
Firefighters and municipal employees worked to open the drains, eventually succeeding in lowering the water level in the afflicted neighborhood.
Moshe, 23, whose home was flooded, said the flooding was entirely preventable. "It's all from a lack of appropriate infrastructure and attention from the municipality. A smart person doesn't address the problem when it occurs but builds a solution ahead of time. Here, they waited until the problem arose."
He said that while Tuesday's flooding was exceptional, the writing was on the wall, as the same section of the local stream overflowed its banks every winter following heavy rains.
"This sort of lack of planning gives a bad name to the neighborhood and to the entire town," he said.
Moshe's family sorted through their soaked beds and ruined clothing after the water receded. All the wood furniture was ruined beyond repair, he said, adding that their house was so full of mud and so damp that they would probably have to pay to sleep in a hotel overnight. The municipality, he said, had not yet said if it would help pay for the damage, although a claims assessor was expected to visit the houses on Wednesday or Thursday.
Representatives of the Kiryat Shmona municipality were unavailable to respond to the residents' questions as to why the drains had not been maintained and why residents were not warned of the danger of flooding in light of the heavy rains.