Recovery efforts underway as worst snowstorm in decades dwindles

Netanyahu urges residents to exercise caution amid relief operations; Route 1 open to public transport, supply vehicles only.

Snow relief efforts tank 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Snow relief efforts tank 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the storm dwindled to a drizzle on Saturday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reminded Israelis they must continue to exercise caution as workers scramble to repair the enormous damage left behind.

“While the peak of the storm may be behind us, I call on the public to continue listening to instructions from the security and rescue services. These instructions have saved many lives in recent days,” the prime minister said at a news conference following high-level consultations in Jerusalem. “On behalf of all Israelis, I would like to express great appreciation to the thousands who are continuing to work around the clock in this weather.”Netanyahu stressed the importance of clearing routes to areas that were still without electricity, and that the priority should be helping the elderly and others in need. He ordered the evacuation of all vehicles blocking access routes to Jerusalem, and vowed to have all of these roads open to normal traffic by Sunday.Although the storm might be practically over, Netanyahu warned that severe flooding could ensue in many areas.Four people were killed in storm-related incidents over the weekend. Two bodies, discovered in a flooded creek bed near Arad on Saturday evening, were likely those of two men who had gone missing three days earlier, Marai Elsana and Sharif Elsana. On Saturday morning, an infant boy was killed by a space heater fire in Lod, and a man in Rishon Lezion slipped to his death on Friday night, while trying to fix a leak.From Wednesday night through Saturday afternoon, approximately 80 centimeters of snow fell in Efrat, 50 centimeters in Safed and 60 centimeters in Har Bracha, near Nablus in the Samarian mountains, an Israel Meteorological Service weather forecaster told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.Areas in Jerusalem ended up receiving between 40 and 50 centimeters of snow, despite predictions that the capital would get up to 1 meter.
Overnight on Saturday, the IMS predicted continued light rain as well as icy road conditions, followed by partly cloudy skies and a rise in temperatures on Sunday. The IMS warned, however, that it would still be unseasonably cold and that there was a chance of light rain along the coast on Sunday morning.Route 1, the main route between Jerusalem and the coast, was reopened to public transportation and supply vehicles only on Sunday morning, after municipal employees spread salt on the icy road.Highway 443, the principal alternative route, still had some 400 abandoned vehicles on it, likely precluding it from reopening until Sunday, according to Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.Drivers of abandoned cars should wait until Sunday morning to come to the capital to retrieve their vehicles, which would be stored near the entrance to the city, he stressed.“Our main concern right now is opening the highways for travel again,” he said on Saturday night.Rosenfeld urged all Jerusalem residents to observe caution in dealing with downed electrical lines and other electrical malfunctions.The Jerusalem Municipality called on drivers to stay off of the city's roads prior to 9 a.m. on Sunday due to the dangers posed by ice that built up overnight.On Sunday morning, many roads across the country remained closed to traffic. The list of closed roads includes: 443, 60, 375, 385, 386, 395, 425, 436, 234, 90, 89, 866, 8900. A constantly updated list can be found on the Israel Police's website (Hebrew).Due to fears that the Ayalon River might overflow its banks, the Ayalon Highway – Road 20 – was temporarily shut down on Friday night, but it was reopened within a few hours, when authorities decided the river’s water level had sufficiently receded.After gaining the approval of the Chief Rabbinate, Israel Railways ran two special trains on Saturday departing from Jerusalem to Haifa, passing through Tel Aviv and other central stations along the way.As of Saturday night, however, due to overflows of the Shapirim Stream, Israel Railways shut down the section of the train tracks between the Modi’in and Tel Aviv Hagana stations.
                    The Jerusalem Municipality announced on Saturday that schools and kindergartens would remain closed on Sunday due to the “potential risk” to pupils caused by storm damage. Municipal workers will work on Sunday to fix the damage to educational institutions in the hope that studies will resume on Monday.Schools in Safed, Peki’in, Beit Jann and other towns in the Upper Galilee and the northern Golan Heights will also be closed on Sunday.Other closures were reported in Efrat, Gush Etzion, Givat Ze’ev and Mevaseret Zion, and in the Tamar Regional Council in the South.The Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ariel University canceled Sunday classes.The Jerusalem Light Rail will remain closed on Sunday morning. The municipality said it was working to resume its operations as soon as possible.Electricity returned on Saturday evening to homes on the Golan Heights, the Golan Regional Council said. Others around the country – some those in Jerusalem and Safed – were not as fortunate.By noon on Saturday, Israel Electric Corporation reported that approximately 35,000 households – or 1.4% percent of the country’s 2.5 million electricity customers – were still without power. About 13,000 of these outages were in Jerusalem, leaving 5.5% of the capital’s residents without power, and 2,400 were in Safed, the company said.Emphasizing that crews worked throughout the night to restore power to customers, the company said it continued to operate on an emergency basis, and that “it will take a long time to fix problems.”Broken wires posed life-threatening dangers, it warned.As of 8 p.m. on Saturday, around 29,000 households were without power, with 9,000 of these customers in Jerusalem and 1,000 in Safed, the IEC said. In Beit Jann, near Mount Meron, approximately 90% of households had power.As of Sunday morning, 16,000 homes remained without power in the Jerusalem area, as well as 3,000 others across the country, according to Israel Radio.Saying the past few days had seen “the most severe snowstorm in the past 150 years in Jerusalem,” the IEC said it was in constant touch with rescue teams and mayors of affected areas. The main problem on Saturday remained access to dozens of sites experiencing blackouts in Jerusalem, Safed and other elsewhere. In many places, access routes were blocked by stranded vehicles as well as collapsed trees and lampposts.On Friday, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett ordered his ministry to authorize all requests to allow employers to have workers – such as emergency medical technicians, rescue workers and electricity crews – in areas damaged by snow or in emergency services work on Saturday.The Economy Ministry is responsible for permits to work on Saturday.Insurance companies will compensate the Israel Electric Corporation for damages estimated at NIS 100 million.Trees that fell during the storm cut 600 high-voltage power lines, the companies said.The IEC is expected to turn to private property owners as well, asking them in the coming months to pay for damage caused by trees on their property.“Every owner of a tree that caused damage will be sued by the electric company and required to return to it the expenditures on extraordinary repairs,” said Chaim Atkin, a real estate and property appraiser. The same way that if a tree in a storm fell on a car, the owners of the property from which the tree fell would have to pay, he said.Property owners who had taken out insurance, and those who could prove they took measures to trim loose branches to avoid damage, will have fewer worries.Avshalom Vilan, director of the Israel Farmers’ Association, warned of the great damage caused to agriculture by the storm.“Israel’s farmers welcome rains as a blessing that helps winter growth, but we already know that the storm of recent days has also led to many damages in the field of agriculture,” Vilan said, stressing that many orchards, trees, greenhouses and crops were damaged.Vilan encouraged farmers to contact the Natural Disasters Fund and communicate the extent of damages. In a few days, the association will sit down with the Agriculture Ministry to estimate the cost of the damages, he said. If the damages are more than insurance is willing to pay, an official natural disaster announcement may be required, he said.On Friday, Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza to transfer aid supplies as the harsh weather also battered the strip. A joint Israeli- Palestinian situation room was opened this weekend to help distressed civilians in the West Bank with transportation and electricity concerns.As the storm dwindled on Saturday night, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said its inspectors would review foot and vehicle trails, as well as bridges, railings, ladders and lookouts, on park grounds. Workers will renew markings on footpaths and repair safety guards as needed, the INPA added. Due to the risk of slipping on and the collapsing of river banks, the INPA warned travelers to stay away from stream and river edges, and to resist entering the rivers themselves, which could be life threatening.Netanyahu held consultations over the weekend to assess the situation, with the participation of Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Israel Katz, Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, Health Minister Yael German, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat, Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino, OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Eisenberg and Israel Electric Corporation chairman Yiftach Ron- Tal.During a news conference on Saturday night, Netanyahu was heard turning to Danino to ask, “Are you driving, Yohanan?” Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said it was “unfortunate that while thousands of people still don’t have electricity, the prime minister is focused on public relations and making jokes in front of the cameras. I wonder if the briefing had any kind of operational value.”Herzog pointed out that on Wednesday, he had called for the government to be prepared for the storm, and he asked why the National Emergency Authority was not immediately activated.“Why are the special procedures voted in by the government and cabinet for national emergencies left only on paper?” Herzog asked. “Why does the average citizen not know where to turn, and why didn’t the local and national governments coordinate? Why are we always unprepared for the moment of truth?” This week, the Knesset will discuss Labor MK Nachman Shai’s call for a parliamentary inquiry committee into what he called the government’s failure to deal with the snow.“The situation is getting worse in Jerusalem,” Shai said on Saturday night. “The siege on our capital, the paralysis in providing electricity, the lack or leadership and a guiding hand require the Knesset to investigate the government’s failures in a broad and deep way.”“If we can’t deal with a blizzard, how can we manage a sudden earthquake or rockets on the home front from North to South?” he asked.Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ofir Akunis (Likud Beytenu) said on Saturday: “We truly need to bolster preparedness of everyone connected to extreme situations like this storm. We need to rethink, draw conclusions and be prepared for similar situations in the future.”Ben Hartman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.