For poor TA residents, storm packs a heavy punch

Sewage problems are common for Argazim neighborhood in south TA, as the neighborhood runs alongside a tributary of the Ayalon.

Eldery woman in her house in Argazim neighborhood 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Eldery woman in her house in Argazim neighborhood 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Sabiha Mukhtar wasn’t budging from the couch in her crumbling, waterlogged home in south Tel Aviv’s Argazim neighborhood on Tuesday.
The single-story house had been inundated earlier in the day as the rains continued to fall across the country – and it seemed nowhere more so than this corner of Tel Aviv.
“If somebody doesn’t come here and fix the problem, I’ll pour gasoline all over and [burn] this house down, and the rest of the neighborhood, too,” Mukhtar said, cursing the municipality and the rain in Hebrew and Arabic.
The 80-year-old native of Iraq said she had lived in the house since she moved to Israel 62 years ago. Like the majority of the neighborhood’s homes, it looks like it never really stopped being a transit camp for Jewish immigrants, the walls and roofs a slapdash mix of stone, cinder blocks and corrugated steel. The unkempt yards and dirt paths stretch off in disarray, with central Tel Aviv seeming like a different planet.
Mukhtar said she had signed on for a “pinui binui” demolition/relocation program, but that the project had been sidelined while the contractor dragged his feet.
On Tuesday, water rushed into her house, mixed with sewage that had overflowed onto the sidewalk outside her home as the system became overwhelmed with rainwater.
Though the house smelled of mildew, with trash and clothing piled high in the damp, leaky house, Mukhtar vowed not to leave – even as the rains threatened to continue in the coming days.
Problems with sewage are common for the neighborhood during heavy rainfalls, not only due to the poor construction and general state of neglect, but also because the neighborhood runs alongside a tributary of the Ayalon River. When the Ayalon swells and surges over its banks, the residents of Argazim feel it the most.
By mid-afternoon, residents were cleaning out their houses and returning to the dirt paths of the neighborhood. In one vacant lot, a large pump on a trailer sucked rainwater out of the roads through blue rubber pipes dozens of meters long, as two workers dozed in the cab of the truck, safe from the driving rain outside.
Through the thick of the rain on Tuesday, mailman Oshri Nir marched through the puddles, handing out mail to the neighborhood’s residents.
Nir said he had worked in the area as a mailman for 23 years and knew every person by name and face. This works out well for him, since there are no official street names or addresses in the neighborhood – only the street “SA,” also called “3694.”
When asked how he knew where to take the mail and what people wrote on the envelopes, he said every parcel listed the same address: “SA 16.”
On Tuesday, he wore a yellow raincoat from head to toe, and carried years of stories and anecdotes about the neighborhood along with his mail bag.
Nir said Tuesday’s storm was the worst he had seen since he began working the route, but that more or less every 10 years there was a major storm there.
He mentioned the storm of 1992, when the Ayalon surged and the navy had to evacuate people by kayak, and a major storm in 2003.
He said Argazim faced multifaceted misfortunes, in that “the drainage system is so weak in south Tel Aviv that the moment the Ayalon goes over its banks, it’s going to flood there. Also, most of these houses were built on sand, with no reinforcement over the years. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that they flood like this when there’s heavy rain.”
Most of the elderly residents of the neighborhood are poor or of meager means, though their children have tended to do better than they have, Nir said.
He added that most of the older people there had lived in the same houses for 50 to 60 years and that “the moment the state put them out here was the moment it stopped taking care of them. Now, for these people today, after all these years, they won’t leave their homes even if they had the means to do so.”
The mailman said plans came and went for evacuations and renewals of the neighborhood’s infrastructure, but in the end, nothing really happened, and people like Mukhtar fell through the cracks.
Not far from the Argazim neighborhood, the Beit Barbour community center in Kfar Shalem was preparing to host south Tel Aviv residents forced out of their houses by the flood waters.
By mid-afternoon, only a half-dozen people had arrived, including 57-year-old grandmother Simha Amar, whose house on SA had been flooded with several centimeters of water and sewage in the morning.
Amar was waiting for the community center staff to bring her a mattress on which she could sleep for the night, but she repeatedly demanded a better solution from the municipality, which she said hadn’t made any improvements to the neighborhood in the 32 years she had lived there.
“They never prepared for this in south Tel Aviv, and this is why it happened,” she said.
A spokesman for the Tel Aviv Municipality said Tuesday afternoon that thus far, it had taken in people who had suffered flood damage to their homes, but none who would be unable to return to their homes after several hours of cleaning.
The spokesman added that all the residents who had left their homes – around 15 by midday – were from the city’s south, particularly Argazim and other areas where the infrastructure was crumbling.
Also in the afternoon, Tel Aviv District Police chief Aharon Aksol met with the heads of all the Tel Aviv-area subdistricts, and discussed how to evacuate residents if flooding worsened, according to police spokeswoman Orit Friedman.
Aksol also said that if flooding worsened to the point that residents’ lives were in danger, police would forcibly remove even those who refused to leave their homes.