Police finally fully reopened the main roads to and from Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, after more than two-and-a-half days of closures because of heavy snow in one of Israel’s worst-ever storms.
Buses started to run again inside the city in the early afternoon, but mainly in 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 the roads if at all possible.
Several major roads across the country remained closed, and access to many settlements in the West Bank was still being cleared Sunday, with numerous communities accessible only by 4×4 vehicles.
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.
The weekly cabinet meeting was postponed from morning to mid-afternoon, because of the difficulties accessing Jerusalem.
When it convened, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had grappled well with the storm, but that there were still challenges ahead. He said the priority was and remained “saving lives,” and warned drivers to take particular care on the still-icy roads.
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, denied there had been a major failure, and said there was no place for a commission of inquiry.
Some 14,000 households were still without power nationwide as of Sunday afternoon, Israel Electric Corporation chief Yiftah Ron-Tal said, including 6,000 households in Jerusalem and its environs. Some 80 villages and communities around Jerusalem had been without power at the height of the storm, and 30 were still disconnected on Sunday. At least three villages in the Golan Heights, which is better equipped to handle storms and snowfall, had been without electricity over the weekend, but were reconnected Saturday night. Power to affected Upper Galilee areas was set to be restored by Sunday night.
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 open up,” she said.
In Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem, workers and the army were working to open roads and hook up water and electrical service, 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.
Israel went through another freezing night Saturday, with roads icing over nationwide, but the storm was winding down and no further snowfall was forecast. Much of Jerusalem and northern Israel were still deep in snow, and much of the rest of the country was still grappling with stormy conditions. Four Israelis were known to have died since the storms began Wednesday night.
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.
“Our first goal is to help thousands [of people] who are still without power. Until the power comes back, there is a big effort by volunteers, activists and even the IDF to help those affected,” Barkat said. The mayor added that municipality officials were working with the Israel Electric Corporation to clear roads affected by fallen trees and power lines.
Israel’s National Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said Saturday evening that police were making every effort to return a sense of normalcy to people’s lives. Stressing that the roads remain dangerous because of the ice and the snow, Danino urged drivers to proceed carefully on reopened roads.
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 8 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 of 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 was fatal, a Magen David Adom crew that arrived at the scene said.
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.
Tel Aviv and surrounding cities also experienced hail, heavy rains and flooding on Friday night
With access to the capital closed to traffic both in the inbound and outbound direction for much of Friday and Saturday, special trains to Tel Aviv and Haifa left from the Malha train station throughout Saturday — a departure from the Shabbat norms under which the railway to and from Jerusalem is closed.
Late Saturday morning, IDF armored vehicles could be seen ploughing through the streets of the cities hit heaviest by the storm, as well as on roads clogged by snow en route to Jerusalem.
— Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) December 14, 2013
Ben Gurion Airport was operating as usual as of Saturday afternoon.