Experts: Elevator flooding could not have been prevented

Experts have said that the house committee is to blame.

The Fire and Rescue Service attempts to save two men trapped in a flooded Tel Aviv elevator. (photo credit: FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE)
The Fire and Rescue Service attempts to save two men trapped in a flooded Tel Aviv elevator.
The police are investigating the case in which a man and woman drowned in a flooded elevator in Tel Aviv due to heavy rainfall on Saturday afternoon, as various reports indicate that their deaths may have been prevented if police had arrived on time.
Experts on the matter believe that the responsibility lies with the building’s house committee.
The investigation began on Saturday shortly after the accident, and looked into why the police took so long to respond.
The elevator short-circuited in the basement of a residential building and, shortly after, filled up with rainwater as a result of flooding. Although the South Tel Aviv neighborhood Hatikva has some outdated plumbing systems, even the planned upgrades for the area could not have handled the deluge.
“In Israel, in general, cases of flooding are becoming more frequent,” said Gilad Sapir, director of the hydrology department at DHV, which belongs to the consulting and management company AVIV AMCG, when speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “The main reason is that our cities have grown, and an urban city creates by nature a larger flow [of rain water] than in open spaces. The plumbing systems, especially the older ones, were built for the cities of the time, and today, they are just not enough.”
He explained that there is a limit to how much central drainage pipes can be enlarged, as other infrastructures exist under the Tel Aviv streets, as well.
“Another problem in the country is that there are no city building standards,” Sapir explained. “Every [construction] plan can do more or less whatever it likes.
“Drainage infrastructure is the most expensive urban infrastructure by far,” he admitted. “In Tel Aviv, the drainage infrastructure is worth NIS 1b. This is not the amount they have invested, mind you, but rather the amount that must be invested in order to reach the place we would like to be. This project can last decades.”
Other residents within the building in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva said they reported the flood to the police call center and they heard banging against the elevator doors, but that it took numerous attempts to file the report as the call center employees had hung up on them.
The two people who died were at first rescued in critical condition two hours apart and evacuated to different hospitals. Both of them were pronounced dead upon arrival. Sapir admitted that, when it comes to drainage, nothing could have been done to prevent the flooding.
“The current infrastructures functioned at the capacity that they were built for,” he said. “You can tell because an hour after the rains stopped, the floods stopped, as well. It cannot handle situations like yesterday’s.”
Attorney Mark Leizerowitz of the firm Leizerowitz Barak said that from the point of view of tort law, the blame is at first glance with the building’s house committee.
“This situation involves an extreme, but not unexpected, amount of water,” Leizerowitz told the Post. “There have already been similar incidents, there have been floods this size, and I know that in the Hatikva neighborhood, as well, because of the poor infrastructure, there have been incidents on this scale. The agent directly responsible for the functionality of the elevator is the building’s house committee.”
He explained there is a chain of blame following the house committee, the next one being whoever built the building.
“That person was supposed to anticipate – after all, when you plan from an engineering standpoint, you plan for the extreme cases and not the simple ones – a situation like this due to the area and what happens there, and he should have planned it so there would be the proper pumps so that a situation like this cannot happen.”
Blame can also be assigned to the elevator contractor, he said. Only after that may the blame be put on rescue forces, including the police and fire department.
“There is a rule in MDA, which is a parallel response organization in this case, in which when they do not arrive on time to an incident, it is considered careless,” Leizerowitz continued. “Here, specifically, I am not sure that the responsibility lies on the police and on the firefighters. The amount of pressure on the firefighters and the police was unusual, I believe.”
He admitted that there should nevertheless have been an increase in police forces on hand, both on call for emergencies and in the call centers.
“There shouldn’t be people drowning in their elevators. That’s what happens in movies, not reality.”
“I am appalled at the tragic deaths of two Tel Aviv residents who were killed in an elevator disaster,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday. “I spoke with the minister of public security, the minister of transport, the deputy police commissioner, and the Fire and Rescue Department Commissioner to find out how this happened, and how to prevent such disasters in the future.”