1,000 at funeral for Israeli lauded as hero, who died rescuing others from flood

Moti Ben Shabbat laid to rest in his hometown of Nahariya; amid deadly rainstorms PM appeals for public to obey authorities’ instructions as they would during a rocket attack

Nahariya municipality workers work in the streets of the northern Israeli city which was suffered severe flooding due to heavy rain storms, January 9, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Nahariya municipality workers work in the streets of the northern Israeli city which was suffered severe flooding due to heavy rain storms, January 9, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Around a thousand people attended the Thursday funeral of Moti Ben Shabbat, who died the day before as he tried to save people trapped in an overturned car in flood-ridden Nahariya.

Ben Shabbat, 38, was laid to rest in his hometown, a northern coastal city of some 50,000 residents near the Lebanon border.

His mother, Chava, lamented that she was burying her son on her own birthday.

“Father, I love you,” shouted his 11-year-old daughter, according to a report from the Ynet news site.

Nahariya Mayor Ronen Mareli described Ben Shabbat as a “hero of the entire country.”

“There is no way to comfort family members, the tragedy is unbearable and there are no words to express the pain,” said Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Vaknin, who is also a resident of the city.

Earlier, President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter to the Ben Shabbat family offering his condolences.

“Dear brave Ben Shabbat family,” the president wrote. “Moti risked his live to save a family whose car was stuck in the rising tides. In those seconds, when action comes before thought, a person’s true character is seen.

“His bravery, his refusal to be a bystander, his courage, touched all our hearts and are examples of humanity and mutual responsibility of the highest order,” Rivlin wrote. “Please, on behalf of the people of Israel, accept my sincere condolences at this difficult time.”

The president also spoke with  Mareli telling him, “I have been watching with concern what is happening in the city over the last 24 hours, and I am proud of what you have been doing.”

A military truck evacuates residents through a flooded road in the northern city of Nahariya, on a stormy winter day, on January 8, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Police said Ben Shabbat was carried away by floodwaters Wednesday as he tried to rescue the passengers of a car that overturned in a pool of water. His body was later found following searches by emergency services. None of the passengers of the vehicle were hurt, police added.

As heavy rains continued to drench the country Thursday, causing flooding in many areas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for the public to listen to safety instructions from authorities, just as they would if the country were under rocket attack.

Netanyahu, accompanied by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, visited the traffic police control center in Beit Dagan to review how the force was monitoring the situation on the roads during the severe weather conditions, which have already claimed seven lives since the start of the rainy season.

“This disaster, the recent rains, have taken a heavy and tragic price of seven lives,” Netanyahu said.

“I have one request,” Netanyahu said in an appeal to the public. “To save lives, to prevent most of the incidents, I ask you to listen to the instructions from police and emergency agencies. If you listen to them, it is exactly like a missile attack. You know that if you follow the instructions, in most cases, in almost all of them, you will not be in danger.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau, 2nd right, visit the traffic police headquarters in Beit Dagan, January 9, 2019. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Netanyahu specifically asked that the public not go to view flash floods in the Negev desert, a popular activity each year, but where water levels can rapidly rise, leading to disaster. “Do not stand on the edge of the streambed. From experience, I tell you – the stream can burst its banks very quickly. Do not go to see the floods; watch them on television.”

The prime minister also commented on a tragedy in Tel Aviv, where two people died on Saturday when they were trapped in a flooded elevator despite numerous calls to emergency services to rescue them.

“The matter is currently being investigated and checked. It is too early to give conclusions. When the inquiries are finished, they will be published,” he said.

The heavy rain spread from north to south, causing further flooding across the country.

In Emunim, in the central region, dozens of children were rescued from their school with dinghies and tractors after all access to the site was submerged under water.

The flooding also caused havoc on intercity roads, with several being blocked. Route 4 going south from the Ashdod Interchange was blocked and Route 90 was closed in both directions between Ein Bokek and Ein Gedi.

Schools and kindergartens remained closed Thursday in some northern communities. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority closed some river hiking trails due to the heavy rain and the expectation that some streams would overflow their banks.

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