Analysis: Were the results of the storm unavoidable, or did the gov't slip up?

Who’s to blame for cities being cut off from the rest of the country for more than two days and thousands being forced to find alternative housing?

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat snow preparation 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat snow preparation 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Despite the ominous forecasts we received all week, the great snow storm of 2013 ended up taking both residents and the government by surprise.
When it finally hit on Thursday, the storm paralyzed much of the country, leaving thousands of residents stranded or without electricity over an icy, and for some – treacherous – Shabbat.
Freezing homes, stranded motorists and cutoff populations were more the norm than the exception in the aftermath of the peculiarly named Alexa (maybe someone in the storm-naming department of the government is a fan of old Billy Joel songs).
On Saturday night, a drive from the snowless Ma’aleh Adumim into Jerusalem revealed the havoc wrought by over a foot of snow and high winds. The major thoroughfares of the capital – like the Begin, Herzl and Golda Meir boulevards – stood like a backdrop for a zombie movie like World War Z.
Like the 1948 tank war monuments dotting the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv highway, cars were strewn akimbo on both sides of the road, as though the drivers had been attacked by otherworldly creatures and vanished into thin air before they had a chance to park them properly.
We “survivors” drove past at cautious speeds of 15-20 kph on the one lane that plows had succeeded in clearing.
On the residential side streets as well, the storm’s fierce effects were easy to see – toppled trees and branches, snapped off like twigs, lay on the snow-covered sidewalks of the downtown Jerusalem area.
Indeed, this was a storm for the ages – one that we refused to heed until it was too late.
The pre-storm photos last week of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat posing with a shovel and smile in front of a plow and a bucket of salt may have been good PR, but it certainly came back to bite him on the tail when he and the rest of the authorities, who are tasked with protecting the well-being of their citizens, realized that there was nothing they could do to combat the ferocity of Alexa.
Who’s to blame for the fact that cities like Jerusalem and Safed were cut off from the rest of the country for more than two days, and that thousands were forced to find alternative housing for the weekend because they had no heat or electricity? We can blame whomever we want – but the main culprit here seems to be the storm.
Commuters who mistook Thursday afternoon’s precipitation respite as a green light to drive into Jerusalem are the ones who had to abandon their vehicles when they couldn’t get home in the evening.
Those same vehicles prevented the snow plows mobilized in and out of the city from clearing the roads.
And when trees and branches fall, electricity is bound to falter, despite the best-intended contingency plans.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog of Labor certainly had a point when he asked over the weekend why the National Emergency Authority was not immediately activated, and why the average citizen in need didn’t know where to turn for help.
If there was nothing the authorities could have done physically to reopen the roads or restore electricity, they at least could have publicized emergency hotlines and services ahead of the storm and prepared shelters, like the makeshift one in the Jerusalem International Convention Center, ahead of time.
However, Herzog and Labor colleague Nachman Shai’s blaming the “siege on our capital” on a lack of leadership and a government failure is overstating and simplifying the situation.
Just last week, hundreds of thousands of Americans were warned that they could be left without power and heat for up to two weeks as a bitter winter storm blasted the South and Midwest with ice and snow. It’s unlikely that the governors of Texas or Montana were raked over the coals over the natural disaster.
Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino, appearing on Saturday night with Barkat and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a televised briefing, basically told us to stop complaining and realize that, for the most part, the authorities had done everything possible to return things to working order as quickly as possible.
I tend to lean toward his outlook on the storm called “Alexa” and its unexpected ability to shut down a country. But then again, I had my electricity.