Storm weakens across Israel, thousands still without power as recovery efforts begin

Jerusalem-bound Route 1 reopened late Saturday; light snow and low temperatures felt throughout weekend, storm to pass by late Saturday; Defense ministry deploys equipment, food rations to assist emergency services.

People in Jerusalem walking in snow 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
People in Jerusalem walking in snow 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Defense Ministry deployed a large quantity of heavy vehicles, equipment, and food rations to assist emergency services operating in the snow in Jerusalem and the North.

Over 30 vehicles, bulldozers, plows, tractors, generators, and salt scattering trucks have been sent to roads around the capital and Safed. Containers of fuel and diesel fuel have been sent to police to assist people stranded without electricity. The Jerusalem Municipality and police were also working to reopen roads and restore travel as normal to and from the capital. Public transportation within the city was set to resume at dusk Saturday, and buses and taxis were due to operate on interurban passages along Route 1.Route 1 reopened for Jerusalem-bound traffic Saturday night, although Highway 443 still had some 400 abandoned vehicles, likely precluding it from reopening until Sunday.Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said drivers of abandoned cars should wait until Sunday morning to come to the city to retrieve their vehicles, which he said will be stored near the entrance to the city."Our main concern right now is opening the highways for travel again," he said Saturday night.Rosenfeld also urged all Jerusalem residents to take precaution in dealing with downed electrical lines and other electrical malfunctions."Due to the ongoing electricity problem, we are calling on the public to be aware of what's going on with their neighbors electricity and to ensure safety measures are closely followed," he said. "It is very important to safely monitor all electrical lines during this time."Jerusalem's Light Rail will remain closed Saturday night and Sunday morning. The municipality said it was working to resume Light Rail operations as soon as possible. Schools, including kindergartens, were set to be closed Sunday in Jerusalem, the northern Golan and Safed.Electricity returned on Saturday evening to residencies in the Golan Heights after winter storms caused widespread power outages over the weekend, said the Golan Regional Council.On Saturday morning, a chunk of the country's residents remained without electricity as precipitation continued. While at around 9 a.m., the Israel Electric Corporation reported that 29,600 households were without power, only two-and-a-half hours later the company upgraded that number to 35,000 – or 1.4% of the country's total 2.5 million customers.  About 13,000 of these outages were in Jerusalem and 2,400 were in Safed, the company said.
Emphasizing that crews worked throughout the entire night to restore power to customers, the company said that it continues to operate in emergency settings, and that "it will take a long time to fix problems," warning that broken wires pose life threatening dangers.Due to conditions, Israel Railways operated a special train on Saturday departing from Jerusalem toward Haifa. The two special trains departed at their scheduled times of 11:00 a.m and 2:00 p.m, and an additional train departed at 4:00 p.m. and stopped at the following stations: the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Tel Aviv Savidor center, Netanya, Binyamina and Haifa Hof Hakarmel.                    Due to fears of a potentially overflowing Ayalon River on Friday night – when the river was about 50 centimeters from spilling over – the Israel Police closed a portion of the Ayalon Highway from 9:30 to 11 p.m. However, after it became clear that the level of the Ayalon River had once again receded, the police reopened the highway to traffic, which was flowing as normal on Saturday morning, according to Netivei Ayalon. At that time, the company said that the Ayalon water level was 170 centimeters below the road.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Saturday there are three main goals during storm recovery efforts: to save lives and help those in need, especially the elderly, to restore power to the areas still cut off, and to prepare for floods that are expected in the coming days due to heavy rains.Netanyahu assessed the situation during a telephone call with various ministers and army officials, and stressed the importance of working together during recovery efforts, Channel 2 reported.                    Treachery on the roadsPolice worked to help dozens of drivers stranded on Jerusalem's streets and on the entry roads into the capital as intermittent snow continued to fall on Friday morning. Roads to the capital remained closed Friday morning. In the evening outbound lanes of Route 1 closed again to traffic from Jerusalem in the direction of Tel Aviv. IDF vehicles and snow plows were also aiding police and municipal employees in efforts to aid motorists.Ben-Gurion Airport closed on Friday for about an hour due to the storm battering the country.The Home Front Command set up a control center in Latrun overnight Friday, and deployed units to snow-stricken areas. Drivers stranded on Route 1 and Route 443 at the entrance to Jerusalem were being evacuated to emergency help centers established at the Jerusalem Convention Center, in Mevaseret Zion and at the Ofer military camp.Some 2,000 stranded motorists in the capital and on the highways leading to the city were rescued by police, IDF and Border Police forces.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat turned to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Jerusalem District police chief Yossi Pariente for help in evacuating the motorists."We are currently using all means available to save the people stuck in the storm. Only after the weather calms will we be able to open all of the roadways in the city," Barkat said Friday morning, adding that the city was facing "a battle against a rare storm, the likes of which we have never seen." The municipality called on drivers to avoid coming to Jerusalem and instructed the city's residents to stay off the roads until the storm had subsided.Due to heavy rains and snow conditions in many parts of the country, Policeissued a general advisory on Friday morning for the public not to leave their homes.Police said that there was an increased risk of fatality for drivers in the current conditions.The Egged bus company announced that it had stopped service to the capital and that it would only restart service on Saturday night contingent on improved conditions.Jerusalem received between 30 centimeters and half a meter of snow by Friday morning depending on the area in the city, Israel Radio reported.                     "We expect difficult weather conditions to continue, and we're asking all civilians to listen to instructions from emergency services and not come to Jerusalem," an IDF source said on Friday. The army has gone on a state of alert on the Golan Heights due to the storm, and has deployed dozens of rescue crews and heavy vehicles there on standby. "We are more experienced with dealing with this kind of weather in the Golan," the source said. Some ten centimeters of snow had accumulated Friday morning in the northern Golan Heights from Kibbutz Ortal northwards.A number of area roads were partially closed and snow removal was in progress. Public transportation was shut down in the northern Golan until further notice.The Golan Heights regional municipality warned tourists not to cross fences and walk into fields due to the risk of stepping on mines.Snow was also coming down Friday morning in Safed, Meron, Sasa, Ma'alot, and in Upper Nazareth and continued throughout the night and into Saturday morning. Police told motorists not to travel to Safed as the access roads to the city were closed. A number of vehicles were stuck on the roads leading to the Galilee city. The ForecastRain is expected to continue through Saturday until it begins to weaken and eventually ceases by nighttime, the IMS reported. Snowfall in Jerusalem should turn to sleet by noon and stop by the afternoon. As the skies become clearer, however, the temperatures will remain cold, falling to below zero in many places and causing icy – "black ice" – road conditions, the IMS warned. Yaakov Lappin and Sharon Udasin contributed to this report.