Jerusalemites express anger, understanding over municipality handling of storm recovery

‘I heard when John Kerry came here on Friday they had more than 40 plows to take care of him, but for the rest of us it was very bad,’ says resident.

Jerusalem snow plow cleanup 370 (photo credit: Daniel K. Eisenbud)
Jerusalem snow plow cleanup 370
(photo credit: Daniel K. Eisenbud)
Despite enduring protracted electrical outages, dangerous unplowed and unsalted streets and sidewalks, school and business closings, Jerusalem residents expressed both anger and understanding over the municipality’s unprepared handling of the storm’s recovery effort.
Indeed, following the most severe winter blizzard to hit the city in decades – ostensibly shutting down the capital for nearly five days – opinions of Mayor Nir Barkat’s response ranged from exacerbated disgust to tempered magnanimity.
“I think [he] did the best he could – this is not Canada or the US – it’s Israel, and we’re not used to this,” said Dor Ovadia on Tuesday, as she walked up a largely thawed Ben Yehuda Street. “There are only so many snow plows in this country.”
Ela Fallik, a high school senior from Harmona Natziv who returned to school for the first time Tuesday for half a day, said the municipality inflated expectations by claiming in the media to be prepared one day before the storm landed.
“The day before they said they were prepared and everything would be OK, but there are still neighborhoods that are blocked by snow almost a week later,” said Fallik. “They didn’t do a good job because people became trapped. There are still students who couldn’t go to school today in Gilo.”
Asked his opinion of the extended recovery effort, Israel Dutuch, a chabad rabbi from Ramat Eshkol, angrily pointed his finger at a sole plow truck collecting snow on the normally bustling Ben Yehuda Street.
“It was very bad, but if people like this were doing the same job 24-hours every street would have been cleaned,” he said.
Dutuch added that while the main road in his neighborhood was plowed, numerous smaller streets and sidewalks remained covered in dangerous snow and ice.
“Children in my neighborhood are still slipping and falling because of this,” he said. “It was not good preparation.”
Moreover, Dutuch said he was troubled by the discrepancy in aid afforded to US Secretary of State John Kerry upon his Friday visit, compared to the vast majority of the city’s beleaguered residents.
“I heard when Kerry came they had over 40 plows to take care of him,” he added. “But for the rest of us it was very bad.”
Meanwhile, Adi Covitz, who made aliya 20 years ago from Scotland, walked gingerly with a cane through the shopping center, although she said she was not handicapped.
“I’ve been using this to make sure I don’t fall on the ice,” said Covitz, adding her apartment was without electricity for five days.
“I was really badly affected and the electric company gave me no indication when they could come to help me.”
Still, Covitz conceded that there was an understandable limit to the municipality’s efficacy in dealing with such an unusually powerful storm in a city unaccustomed to such weather.
“It’s a very difficult situation because I know they weren’t expecting this,” she added. “I think they did what they could.”
At the shuk, which was largely shut down over the past four days, merchant Yaacov Marciano squarely cast blame on the mayor.
“Shame on Barkat because he was not prepared,” he said. “OK, he didn’t know it would snow like this, but he should have been ready before this happened, not when the damage was already done.”
While Marciano said he could understand his store’s forced closure the day after the storm, he said it was unacceptable that the snow was not removed by Tuesday, which he said resulted in unnecessarily lost income.
“The snow should have been removed by Sunday afternoon, not today,” he said.
Still, Rivka, who requested her last name not be published, expressed ambivalence as she shopped for baked bread.
“I think they prepared for what we’re used to, but it wasn’t enough,” she said. “Everybody understands the situation – that this was unusual.”
In terms of the city’s overall recovery effort, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described the situation Tuesday as “tremendously improved.”
“The worst is behind us and we’re coordinating with the municipality to make sure by tomorrow morning all the schools are fully functioning, as well as public transportation inside the city,” he said.
Asked to respond to frustration among residents over the municipality’s handling of the situation, mayoral spokeswoman Brachie Sprung said Tuesday that the city used every means at its disposal under highly unusual circumstances.
“The Jerusalem Municipality is dealing with the results of a rare storm that created a national emergency and is working to responsibly restore the city’s routine as quickly as possible,” she said.
Sprung added that City Hall is actively coordinating a citywide effort to streamline response efforts should a storm of this magnitude hit the capital again.
“As is done in any exceptional case, the municipality will compile a comprehensive list of lessons learned from this with the goal of improving future responses,” she said.