Tel Aviv underwater: Rain brings city to halt

River overflows onto Tel Aviv's main artery, Ayalon Highway, causing mass closures; TA shelters receive 19 displaced residents.

Ayalon Highway really, really flooded 390 (photo credit: Rivka Finder)
Ayalon Highway really, really flooded 390
(photo credit: Rivka Finder)
Tel Aviv braced for further floods Tuesday afternoon, even as the city began to recover from a morning in which its main traffic artery and rail services ground to a halt due to fierce storms that hit much of Israel. The rains were so powerful on Tuesday morning that flooding caused the closure of Tel Aviv's main artery – the Ayalon Highway, or Highway 20 – as well as the city's train stations .

By mid-afternoon, however, both northbound and southbound lanes of the Ayalon reopened to traffic. The section of the central Namir Road, which had also been closed due to flooding,reopened at around 2 p.m., police said.The Tel Aviv Municipality provided shelter for 19 residents seeking refuge after heavy rains and flooding damaged their homes. The municipality said five residents had sought shelter in the Beit Barbour community center, and another 14 at the Neve Eliezer center.Israel Railways closed rail traffic between Tel Aviv Hagana and Tel Aviv Savidor-Merkaz train stations due to the flooding of the Ayalon Highway, which it runs in the middle of.Traffic in the entire railway system was slowed due to the weather and low visibility, and the company requested the public only use trains in urgent cases. By mid-morning, the Herzliya train station was also shut down.From Monday morning at 7 a.m. through Tuesday at 7 a.m., the Tel Aviv Municipality had already coped with 521 storm-related incidents – five flooded apartments, eight flooded yards, 231 fallen trees and branches, 24 obstacle removals from roads, 45 fallen traffic lights and signs, 14 potholes, 57 blocked antennas, four sewage system issues, 13 fallen building parts, 15 objects dropped from roofs, 46 torn cables and electricity issues, seven broken or loose street lamps, one road erosion incident, 36 problematic road puddles, six telecommunications issues and two shut down water taps, according to the city. The municipality said it also already opened the Neve Eliezer and Beit Barbour community centers and was preparing the Magid and Frankfurt community centers in the city's north, in the event that residents need to seek refuge from flooding.Both the Yarkon and Ayalon rivers reached their capacity limit and were at risk for continued flooding, the city warned. Particularly prone neighborhoods include Yedidiya, Ezra, HaArgazim and areas along the Yarkon, as well as Bnei Dan and Ussishkin streets. If moving residents to the community centers becomes necessary, the municipality said that it would be helping transport the public, operating shuttles from the Amiel Rambam School in Ezra – on Derech HaLechi 46 – and providing hot drinks, blankets, beds and psychological services upon arrival.Outside of the Tel Aviv region, roads were closed all over the country on Tuesday morning, particularly in the North and Center. In the North, Road 99 was still closed in the Banias area as of 11:30 a.m., while Road 899 between Mattat and Sasa and Road 804 in the Nahal Hilazon region also were shut down due to flooding. In the Center, portions of roads 463, 465, 4613, 4311 and 41 were also closed due to flooding. Road 4, which had been suggested as an alternative for Tel Aviv's Ayalon travel, was ridden with traffic jams. Earlier on Tuesday morning, a vehicle lost control on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway amid heavy storm conditions, leading to the death of three people with an additional man suffering severe injuries.Also due to the effects of the storm, the Environmental Protection Ministry warned that there would be high levels of air pollution in the Negev during afternoon hours following dust storms. It is therefore crucial that sensitive populations – such as heart disease or lung disease patients, the elderly, pregnant women or children – stay indoors and refrain from physical activity, according to the authority. Also along the riverbanks, near the Emekim Junction area, homes were flooded and a kindergarten was evacuation, the authority added.Northward, the Kishon River and Drainage Authority reported the riverbed area receiving thus far in the storm a total of 250 millimeters of rain, an irregular quantity not seen in this drainage basin for two decades. Due to the overdraft, the Megiddo civilian airport as well as the Jezreel Valley are entirely flooded, the authority reported. "The various systems that we maintain throughout the year are proving themselves thus far, but this is still quite a considerable period of rain," said Kishon River and Drainage Authority CEO Haim Hemi. In perhaps a brighter turn of events, as of Tuesday morning, Lake Kinneret stood at 211.5 meters below sea level, just 2.7 meters from being filled and a 22-centimeter rise from the morning before, Water Authority data said.MK Dov Henin (Hadash) meanwhile criticized the government for not making better use of the deluge of rainwater barreling into the country. The Knesset, he explained, should pass his proposed Rainwater Collection bill that would allow for rainwater storage units."A lot of water flows into the sea now – then they tell us there is no water, and that we have to pay the price," Henin said."I will continue to fight for the separation of sewage and drainage systems, and will continue to fight for rainwater storage systems – that will enable the collection of a greater portion of rainwater by inserting them into the ground and using them."Winds all over the country continued to be extremely strong, with the Israel Meteorological Service (IMS) predicting speeds of up to 75 kilometers per hour in the North and Center, 85 kilometers per hour in the Arava Desert and 30 kilometers per hour in Eilat for the rest of the day. In addition to the strong winds, for the rest of the day, the IMS predicted thunderstorms in the North and Center as well as continued snow over Mount Hermon – where 15 centimeters of snow had piled up on the area's resort. By afternoon, rain will likely spread to the South, and by evening, snow will cover the peaks of the northern mountains. Following unseasonably cold temperatures all over the country throughout the day, by nightfall the high peaks of the country's central mountains will also likely receive snow, IMS said. Risks of floods and flash floods were ongoing all over the country.On Wednesday, temperatures will probably drop even further, with showers and storms as well as extremely strong winds all over Israel. Snow will likely continue to fall over Mount Hermon, the northern mountain peaks and the central mountain peaks – including those of Jerusalem and potentially those in the Negev, according to IMS. Thursday will feature continued showers and storms with strong winds all over Israel, along with morning snow in the northern and central mountain peaks, including in Jerusalem. By afternoon, however, the rain will weaken in both amount and intensity, though temperatures will remain very cold. Although Friday will also likely be unseasonably cold, the weather will probably calm down to between partly cloudy and cloudy with scattered showers in the country's North and Center, until evening hours, the IMS said.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.