Jerusalem’s children got news Sunday night that school would be off for a fifth straight day come morning, as the capital hunkered down for another cold night, with warnings of temperatures heading south and freezing roads after a brief thaw during the day.
The Egged bus company announced Sunday night it had halted service inside the capital as well as on buses leaving and traveling to the city, out of fear of slippery roads. Roads in and out of the city were still open to private vehicles.
The move came hours after officials opened the main roads leading into the capital, following several days in which the city was effectively cut off from the ground.
Temperatures were expected to reach freezing again overnight Sunday and into Monday, refreezing arteries made slick by a day that saw snow piled up from a record storm over the weekend begin to melt away.
The main roads leading into Jerusalem, Routes 1 and 443, opened up during the day, but authorities warned drivers to use them with caution and avoid coming into the capital if at all possible.
Israel weathered the brutal winter storm “better than developed countries” accustomed to more frequent blizzards, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, as roads slowly cleared and the capital thawed out.
“Thanks to the preparedness of security and rescue forces, and thanks to the cooperation of civilians, many lives were saved,” the prime minister said during the weekly cabinet meeting, which was postponed from morning to mid-afternoon because of difficulty accessing Jerusalem.
Netanyahu said Israel had grappled well with the storm, but that there were still challenges ahead. He dismissed criticism of national and local governments in preparing for the storm, echoing a statement made a day earlier by an Israel Electric Corporation official that “we functioned better than developed countries that such storms afflict more often.”
Netanyahu said the priority was and remained “saving lives,” and warned drivers to take particular care on the still-icy roads, many of which were expected to refreeze overnight Sunday as temperatures dipped back below freezing after a sunny and slightly warmer day. In anticipation of potentially treacherous conditions on the windy mountain highway into Jerusalem, the Egged bus company canceled intercity service to and from the capital.
According to the electric company, as of Sunday evening 14,000 homes remained without power, 6,000 of which were in Jerusalem. It said that great efforts were being made to return electricity to hard-hit areas around the capital and in northern Israel. Many of the homes were in settlements in the West Bank isolated by the storm.
Four people were killed from the inclement weather over the weekend, which brought snow as far south as Dimona and heavy rains elsewhere, though none from the cold in Jerusalem.
School in the capital was canceled for Monday, the fifth straight day, and The Hebrew University said it would only hold classes after 12 p.m.
Earlier in the day, police finally fully reopened the main roads to and from Jerusalem, after more than two-and-a-half days of closures.
Buses started to run again inside the city in the early afternoon, but mainly in the central areas. The light rail was still out of service and was unlikely to restart before Monday. The municipality was bringing in 100 tons of salt from the Dead Sea to help de-ice city roads. Drivers were told to stay off roads within the city if at all possible.
Several neighborhoods in the capital, as well as in the northern city of Safed and in the Golan Heights, remained under heavy snow. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo reported Sunday that two flamingos died from the storm.
Many major roads across the country remained closed, and access to some settlements in the West Bank was still being cleared Sunday, with numerous communities accessible only by 4×4 vehicles.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said there were certainly “lessons to be learned” from the crisis, but rejected criticism of the authorities’ handling of the storm. He denied there had been a major failure, and said there was no place for a commission of inquiry.
The main Route 1 highway to Tel Aviv was fully opened a little after 1 p.m., as was Route 443 leading northwest out of Jerusalem, after emergency services cleared vehicles abandoned by drivers early in the storm on Thursday and Friday. The main road south of the capital, Road 60, to the Etzion Bloc, was also reopened; Road 60 was also open to the north. The road east, toward Maaleh Adumim, was still shut to traffic.
Power company CEO Eli Glickman told Channel 2 that Israel handled the storm better than American authorities managed 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.
In the Binyamin Regional Council, covering the settlement areas in the West Bank north of Jerusalem, there were still about 3,000 families who had been without power or water since Friday, council spokeswoman Tamar Asraf told Israel Radio Sunday afternoon. “We are still in a hard situation… but things are starting to clear up,” she said.
In Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, workers and the army were working to open roads and hook up water and electrical services, the Gush Etzion Regional Council said. Thousands have been without water or electricity since Friday and settlements in the region have been isolated due to closed roads. The council said steps were being taken to evacuate some residents.
Besides the regular emergency call centers — 100 for police, 106 for the local municipality — a government call center was opened for elderly residents. It can be reached by dialing *8840.
In the West Bank, IDF helicopters were used to evacuate those who needed emergency medical attention, including, on Sunday morning, a mother and her three children in the settlement of Haresha who were found suffering from hypothermia.
Palestinian police said major thoroughfares in Palestinian areas were gradually being reopened, but the UN said many villages were still inaccessible. In Gaza, some 40,000 people were evacuated from flooded homes.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Saturday night that the capital was still in “a state of emergency,” grappling with a “storm of extraordinary proportions.” Netanyahu called it a “once-in-a-century” storm, and said efficient coordination had averted the kind of loss of life that other countries have suffered in similar circumstances.
Schools stayed closed Sunday in Jerusalem, the Etzion Bloc and much of the rest of the West Bank, Mevasseret Zion, Safed and the Golan Heights. A handful of scattered schools elsewhere in the country, including in the northern Negev, were also closed.
The snow reached 40-60 centimeters in Jerusalem and between 60 centimeters and one meter in the Golan.
The storm, which hit hard in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and Egypt as well, and was given the international name Alexa, was largely over in Israel by Saturday night. Sunday was sunny in much of Israel, but still with colder-than-normal temperatures for December.
The Sea of Galilee rose 10 centimeters as a consequence of the storm, which also threw 176 millimeters (7 inches) of rain onto Jerusalem, and 157 millimeters (over 6 inches) onto Tel Aviv — far more than the usual rainfall in those cities for the entire month.
The damage caused by the storm was assessed at over NIS 120 million ($34 million), according to Israel Radio. Officials from the Finance Ministry said the Treasury would look into covering some of the costs incurred by municipalities in dealing with the consequences of the storm, such as floods and damage to infrastructure. Agricultural damage was put at NIS 100 million.
On Saturday afternoon, the bodies of two men from the Bedouin town of Rahat were found by rescue services after three days of searching. The men had set out on Wednesday in a 4×4 and went missing near the Dead Sea. Police believe their vehicle was swept away in the storm in the area of Nahal Tze’elim.
Overnight Friday-Saturday, a one-year-old toddler in Lod died of injuries that he sustained when the heater, placed in his room to combat the severe cold brought on by the storm, caught fire. The toddler’s father sustained light injuries trying to save him.
On Friday, a 36-year-old Rishon Lezion resident slid off his roof and died during the storm. The man had climbed onto the roof to repair a leak, according to local sources. The impact of the fall from a height of approximately 15 feet (about 4.5 meters) was fatal, said a Magen David Adom crew that arrived at the scene.
On Saturday afternoon, an IAF aircraft evacuated an Israeli woman in labor from the settlement of Yitzhar, in the West Bank, to a hospital where she gave birth safely. Some 2,000 people were hospitalized and 7,000 calls were made to emergency services as the storm raged.