Israel faced another freezing night Saturday, with fears of icy roads nationwide, but the worst storm in decades was winding down. Late Saturday night, much of Jerusalem and northern Israel were still deep in snow, the authorities were working to open roads in and out of the capital, 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.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Saturday that his municipality was still working “in a state of emergency,” grappling with a “storm of extraordinary proportions.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “once-in-a-century” storm, and said efficient coordination had averted the kind of loss of life that other countries had suffered in similar circumstances.
“Our first goal is to help [the] 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 National Corporation to clear roads affected by fallen trees and power lines.
Route 1 into and out of Jerusalem was still closed late Saturday night, even to public transport, as the authorities struggled to clear lanes blocked by dozens of abandoned vehicles.
Israel’s National Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said Saturday evening that the police was making every effort to return a sense of normalcy to people’s lives. Stressing the roads remain dangerous because of the ice and the snow, Danino urged drivers to proceed carefully on reopened roads.
Schools were to stay closed Sunday in Jerusalem, Mevasseret Zion, the Etzion Bloc, Safed and the Golan Heights.
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 set to be partly cloudy and colder than normal for the time of year. No more snow was forecast for the near future.
The Sea of Galilee rose 8 centimeters as a consequence of the storm, which also threw 176 mm. of rain onto Jerusalem, and 157 mm. 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.
Twenty thousand households were still without power nationwide as of Saturday evening, including 8,000 in Jerusalem and its environs, as well as more than 1,000 in Safed. Some 80 villages around Jerusalem had been without power at the height of the storm, and some 30 were still disconnected on Saturday evening. 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.
On Saturday afternoon, the bodies of two men in their 20s 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 from his injuries after 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 on 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.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Saturday evening praised rescue efforts nationwide, saying there had been no direct fatalities in the storm — apparently unaware of the two Bedouin fatalities. He predicted another very cold night, with conditions improving in the course of Sunday.
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 an inbound and outbound direction, special trains to Tel Aviv and Haifa departed from the Malha train station throughout Saturday.
Major traffic arteries such as routes 1 and 443 were closed to traffic Friday and Saturday, as was road access to the Golan Heights, including the Mount Hermon ski site. Drivers were urged not to drive toward the southern Hebron Hills due to slippery roads, and the roads to Zikim and Nitzanim were closed due to flooding.
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 open and operating as of Saturday afternoon.
Jerusalem police chief Yossi Pariente said Saturday evening that access had been reopened to all of Jerusalem’s surrounding villages, albeit only to 4×4 vehicles in some cases.
Overnight Friday, in what was described by Channel 2 as the “worst storm in decades,” much of northern Israel was also hit by snow and heavy storms, as were large parts of the West Bank. Israel and the Palestinian Authority were working together to grapple with power outages and other aspects of the storm’s impact.
Israel also providing fuel and gas to Gaza, to keep the electricity on in the Strip, which was grappling with harsh weather conditions including flooding in some areas.
Haifa was hit with its first snowfall in 22 years, according to officials, and Tel Aviv was battered by heavy rain and hail.
Ben Gurion Airport halted operations for 40 minutes Friday to undergo “advanced preparation” for the storm. Some 40 flights did manage to arrive in Israel before the start of Shabbat despite the inclement weather conditions, reported Israel Radio.
Beginning at approximately 4 pm local time Friday, heavy snow began to fall in the capital after several hours of respite from the storms that had begun Wednesday night. Municipality officials told The Times of Israel that the Friday-Saturday bout would be “three times worse” than the storms of previous days. They urged all residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to stay indoors as weather conditions worsened.
As the city turned white at nightfall, most of the streets were completely empty.
Earlier, the Israel Electric Corporation declared a nationwide state of emergency.
The electric company was manning a situation room to receive reports of outages and calling in emergency workers to help restore power to those affected in certain parts of Jerusalem, Mevasseret Zion, Har Adar, Abu Gosh and Tzur Hadassah where many power lines were hit by trees and branches. Workers were facing difficulties reaching certain areas due to fallen trees and power lines. “We did not anticipate the storm to be on this scale,” Oren Helman from the electric company told Channel 2 news.
Officials urged those with power in the capital to host individuals and families affected by the storm — whether unexpectedly stranded in the city or hit by power outages — for the Sabbath. Israeli TV reports indicated that such efforts were already underway.
Photo of United Hatzolah volunteers now handing out free Challas for whoever didn't get yet on Surei Yisroel St pic.twitter.com/50N9rpFUxg
— Israel News Feed (@IsraelHatzolah) December 13, 2013
Photo at Binyanei Hauma in Jerusalem over 2,000 stranded people arrived there handing out food and shelter for all pic.twitter.com/PjK732HbT3
— Israel News Feed (@IsraelHatzolah) December 13, 2013
Meanwhile, in neighboring Cairo, residents reported snowfall for the first time in 112 years. Snow was also reported in southern Jordan.
On the main arteries leading in to and out of Jerusalem, Highway 1 and Road 443, thousands of people were left stranded overnight Thursday-Friday by the heavy snowfall, leading the IDF, the police and volunteers to launch rescue operations.
Police said Friday morning that a rescue operation on Road 443 was completed, after rescuers evacuated some 600 travelers from that route.
Crews worked throughout Thursday-Friday night and into the morning to rescue over 4,000 travelers in cars and buses trapped on the roads, at one point putting out a public call for help from anybody with a 4X4 vehicle.
Hundreds were temporarily evacuated to shelters set up at convention centers in the city, including the International Convention Center, or Binyanei Hauma.
The Defense Ministry said it was sending emergency generators and meals to those currently at the centers.
In Modi’in Ilit, a 1-year-old baby was moderately injured late Thursday night after a roof collapsed on a modular building being used a synagogue. Four other people were lightly injured.
On Thursday, the IDF’s elite 669 search and rescue unit retrieved 10 trapped passengers from a commercial vehicle that was swept away by flood waters in Nahal Gerar, north of Beersheba. The passengers, nine of whom were children, were airlifted to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center in fair condition.
The Education Ministry set up a hotline for parents to get information about school arrangements. The number is 02-6222211.
On Wednesday, high winds, torrential rain and floods inflicted damage in many areas, with some injuries caused by flying debris.
Over 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday morning, some 103 millimeters (four inches) of rain — the monthly average — fell in the capital and 35 mm (1.4 inches) in Tel Aviv.
There were several incidents of people caught in flash floods that swept their cars away.
Flash flood chasers streamed down to wadis around the Dead Sea region in the hope of catching the storm waters as they pounded down from the Jerusalem mountains, but some became trapped as roads were flooded in the surge.
Jerusalem authorities had prepared to counter the snow, with 90 tons of salt as well as snowplows being readied. Other municipalities in the country’s north had also braced for snowfall, notably Safed and neighboring towns in the mountainous northern Galilee and elevated communities in the Golan Heights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.