Storm kills two in West Bank; thousands lose power

Police, IDF rescue 90 people trapped by floods; 20,000 in Hadera lose power as strong winds pound country for 6th day.

A FIREMAN throws a rope to a colleague 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
A FIREMAN throws a rope to a colleague 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
The bodies of a Palestinian woman and a Samaritan woman were found on Wednesday morning after they washed up on the banks of a river outside Tulkarm, as strong winds continued to pound the entire country, and snow continued to fall in the northern and central mountain peaks as well as Jerusalem.
The bodies were discovered several hours after their car slipped off a road in the West Bank and they plummeted into a stream. The incident was the worst weather-related accident since the worst storm in a decade began battering Israel in earnest on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Palestinian News Agency Ma'an reported an elderly woman died in her home in a refugee camp east of Tulkarm when her house was set on fire by a gas heater.
The Hadera area was also badly damaged on Wednesday, when the Hadera River surged over its banks and flooded hundreds of cars and dozens of houses in the coastal city.
Across the country, officers from the police, army, and Fire and Rescue Services evacuated people trapped by rising waters or heavy snowfall in their homes, cars and elsewhere.
Late in the afternoon, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said members of the police volunteer searchand- rescue unit had saved 70 people since Tuesday, in 25 incidents around the country.
Those rescued included a driver whose truck ran into the Himar Stream near Arad and a man whose kayak overturned in the Ayalon River in Tel Aviv.
Police also took to dangerous roads and worked to prevent people from trying to drive in areas in danger of flooding or with perilous levels of snow and ice.
The IDF said it had deployed rescue personnel in 20 incidents since Tuesday, with the air force’s 669 search-and-rescue unit saving stranded civilians, while an IAF helicopter was deployed to save 15 people off a roof in Baka al-Gharbiya.
The Fire and Rescue Services could not provide the exact number of rescues it had taken part in since Tuesday, only saying that there were at least several dozen cases where it had come to the rescue of people stranded by the storm. The spokesman added that in many of these cases, the people were drivers who tried to traverse flooded streets and then became stuck.
Across the country, police closed and reopened streets due to the weather conditions – especially in the North, where many highways were highly dangerous.
Also in the West Bank, snow and ice covered a number of roads, as well as Highway 90 from Ein Gedi to the Dead Sea along the Jordan River, which because of the low altitude and high number of flooded creek beds was closed on Wednesday.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, a flooded electricity substation at Hadera Paper caused 20,000 clients to lose power overnight, which dozens of Israel Electric Corporation employees resolved entirely by 11 a.m.
Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau and IEC chairman Yiftach Ron-Tal visited the site with Hadera Mayor Haim Avitan later in the day to assess the situation.
“I thank the residents for their patience and endurance, and the IEC employees for their dedication, which treated the problem here and all other locations throughout the country over the course of this storm,” Landau said.
“Since we are in the midst of hectic days, I request that the public remain aware and patient. We are all making an effort to handle the problems and to resume regular electricity supplies for all residents of the state.”
Ron-Tal, meanwhile, reminded the public that a “power supply is not a given,” particularly referring to the weeks of power losses in the northeastern US during superstorm Sandy.
“We have seen in the United States, in Canada and other developed countries around the world that there are power failure events lasting for days,” he said. “Our events are few and have at most lasted several hours.”
Also between Tuesday and Wednesday, IEC divers plunged into the sea to clean up litter that had flowed in and was clogging the cooling systems at the Reading (in north Tel Aviv) and Ashkelon power plants, corporation CEO Eli Glickman said.
As of Wednesday evening, collapsing trees and other mishaps had caused localized power outages in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Nazareth, Ashkelon, Rishon Lezion, Herzliya, Afula and Bat Hefer, the company added.
At 1:30 p.m., the Traffic Police said that because of heavy snowfall, they had closed the following roads in the North: Highway 90 near Beit She’an, northbound traffic from the Shiryon junction, Alrom junction, and Wasset junction, as well as the right lanes of Highway 6 heading south from Iron, which was closed because of holes in the asphalt caused by the storm.
On the Golan Heights, Highway 99 was closed from Mas’ada to the Sa’ar junction, as was Highway 98 from Alonei Habashan to Keshet.
In addition, they said the Yagur junction heading toward Highway 70 was flooded and that Highway 89 between Horpish and Meron was iced over and closed, as well as the road between Ma’alot and Horpish. They added that Highways 89 and 854 were snowed under with heavy fog.
Further south, Highway 60 southbound from Gilo in Jerusalem was closed because of snow, the Judea and Samaria District Police reported.
Roads continued to close down due to flooding throughout the day – in particular Highway 40 near Nahal Paran, Road 804 near Nahal Hilazon and at the Tze’elim Bridge on Road 234.
A flooded Road 889 led to an accident in which 11 children were lightly hurt, and Road 866 was closed after several cars lost their grip on the surface – but without injuries.
Highway 6 from Kiryat Gat south was heavily iced but open.
By Wednesday evening, the storm’s rainfall had accumulated to between 150 and 250 millimeters in the North and the Center, with some areas receiving up to 300 millimeters, said Dr. Amos Porat, director of the Climate Department at the Israel Meteorological Service.
The South also received rainfall, with totals amounting to between 20 and 50 millimeters.
In one of the most encouraging aspects of the week’s pouring rains, the water level of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) stood at 211.34 meters below sea level on Wednesday morning, a 16- centimeter rise from the previous morning and just 2.50 meters from being filled to capacity. By evening, the basin had risen another 7 centimeters, reaching 211.27 meters below sea level and bringing the total rise for this storm period to 60 centimeters, the Water Authority said.
During a briefing on the storm at the Israel Police national traffic control center in Beit Dagan, near Rishon Lezion, on Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was pleased to see that everything was under control and that all of the country’s infrastructural bodies and emergency response teams were working together to resolve problems.
“I have instructed Public Security Ministry directorgeneral Rotem Peleg to consider compensation for those who have been hurt as a result of the weather,” he said.
Netanyahu thanked all the emergency and rescue forces working around the clock to save lives in cold temperatures and strong winds “on behalf of all Israelis.”
“One month after Operation Pillar of Defense, the rescue forces are again proving that the Israeli home front can rely on them,” the prime minister said. “In the stormy weather, their sole concern is to help Israeli citizens, and they have been very successful.”
The trains fared much better than the roads on Wednesday, with all stations operating essentially as normal.
While Israel Railways warned passengers that there would still be delays due to the weather conditions, there were no closed stations or rerouted paths as there were the day before.
Looking at the situation in Bat Hefer, east of Netanya, Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich criticized the government for allowing a “tsunami of sewage and rainwater to hit the town due to continuous neglect of infrastructure.”
Despite repeated appeals from the Emek Hefer Regional Council chairman to the government to repair their systems, nothing was done to help the residents, Yacimovich said. Because there is no law regarding compensation to families affected by natural disasters, these people will not be able to expedite the rebuilding of their homes, she added.
Tel Aviv, whose main Ayalon Highway artery was deluged by floods on Tuesday, experienced much fewer storm-related issues on Wednesday. Between 7 a.m.
and 2:20 p.m. the Tel Aviv Municipality reported handling 149 problematic incidents, as opposed to the 293 the day before. Most prominent among Wednesday’s issues were 53 fallen trees and branches and 20 fallen traffic lights and signs, the municipality said.
On Thursday, rain and isolated storms will likely persist in the Center and the South, with snow continuing to fall over the central and northern mountain peaks, including those of Jerusalem, the Israel Meteorological Service said. By the afternoon, both rain and snow should weaken, but the risk of flash floods as well as particularly cold temperatures will continue.
On Friday, there will likely be partly cloudy to mostly cloudy skies with isolated showers, predominantly in the North, the IMS said.
Temperatures throughout the country will remain unseasonably cold, though warmer than those of Thursday.
By Saturday, most of the country will experience partly cloudy skies and an additional rise in temperature, though still be colder than usual.
Ben Hartman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report. •