Knesset committees to brainstorm weather readiness

Knesset committees to brainstorm weather readiness

MKs to look at ways of preventing a repeat of events over weekend which left the capital isolated and tens of thousands without power

A car damaged by a tree which fell due to a heavy storm in Jerusalem. December 14, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A car damaged by a tree which fell due to a heavy storm in Jerusalem. December 14, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several Knesset committees will hold joint meetings to examine the country’s preparedness at various local and national levels following a winter storm that crippled parts of the country, cut off Jerusalem, and left tens of thousands without power, the Knesset announced Sunday.

The weekend storm, deemed a “once-in-a-century” phenomenon by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dropped 40-60 centimeters of snow in Jerusalem and between 60 centimeters and one meter of snow in the Golan, closing roads and shutting down public transportation in parts of the country and causing four fatalities.

On Sunday, snowballs gave way to accusations being flung at different corners of the government for a lack of preparedness ahead of the storm.

“The State of Israel cannot allow it to be that there are people cut off for a period of time in extreme cold,” head of the Knesset Interior Affairs and Environment Committee Miri Regev said in a statement. “The state has the tools to do things better. As part of the joint committee hearings that are under my leadership, we’ll try together to learn from all the data and eventually draw lessons from them for the future to prevent what happened in Jerusalem and the north. Jerusalem was isolated for at least three days, and thousands of people were cut off and could not go out of their houses.”

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.

Some 14,000 households were still without power nationwide as of Sunday evening, 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. Power was lost at numerous West Bank settlements.

“The Israeli government did not anticipate the size of the storm, its dimensions and its results, and that is something is clear to everyone,” head of the Home Front Preparedness Committee MK Eli Yishai (Shas) said. “Nevertheless, [the government] must be prepared against the forces of nature, especially since we are just at the beginning of the winter.”

Yishai added that the commission will work together with all the relevant departments to clarify the contributing factors and draw up plans to enable authorities to provide a better response in the future.

“The committee will… ensure that the scenes that we saw, including an isolated capital city with its citizens cut off from electricity and food, is a thing of the past,” Yishai said. “The difficulty in being ready in the face of the elements doesn’t negate obligation to do it.”

In 2012 Yishai, the then-interior minister, found himself taking the brunt of accusations at the lack of readiness of fire and emergency services in tackling a massive blaze in the Carmel forest area in 2010 that claimed 44 lives. At the time Yishai said that his requests to bolster firefighting services were ignored.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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