3 days after storm, lights back on for almost everyone
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3 days after storm, lights back on for almost everyone

Electric company pushes through the night to get systems back online, says only a few homes yet to be reconnected

A crane collapse at a construction site in Netanya on Oct 25, 2015. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
A crane collapse at a construction site in Netanya on Oct 25, 2015. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Practically all Israeli homes have been reconnected to the power grid, the Israel Electric Corporation said Wednesday morning, three days after a powerful storm knocked out power for tens of thousands of homes and led to angry criticism of the state-owned firm and its workers’ union.

The company said crews had worked through the night to hook up the last unconnected homes in the Sharon region, north of Tel Aviv. Only a few households have yet to be reconnected, the company said.

At the height of a storm Sunday that brought driving rain and heavy wind to the country, knocking down trees and cranes and killing one person, hundreds of thousands of Israelis were left without electricity.

While many were quickly reconnected to the power supply, thousands of homes in the Sharon area remained without electricity into Tuesday.

The last places to be reconnected were the Tel Aviv suburbs of Ra’anana, Petah Tikva and Herzliya, according to Army Radio.

The company’s management and municipal and state officials accused IEC workers of conducting a work slowdown — known as an Italian strike — to protest planned reforms to streamline the company.

An Israeli family sits in the darkness of their home during a power outage, near the Israeli town of Netanya, on October 26, 2015. (Chen Leopold/FLASH90)
An Israeli family sits in the darkness of their home during a power outage, near the Israeli town of Netanya, on October 26, 2015. (Chen Leopold/FLASH90)

The slow pace brought a torrent of criticism from politicians and others, who accused the union of instructing workers to drag their feet, and the company of failing to have proper infrastructure in place.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz faulted the IEC for failing to promptly fix the downed power lines, and called the situation “a very grave incident that must not be repeated,” in an interview with Channel 2 Monday evening.

“This saddens me greatly, and I think the union made a huge mistake,” he said. “This is a grave mistake, from an ethical standpoint as well.”

Steinitz added that once the power grids were repaired, an investigation should be opened into the IEC’s handling of the situation.

Findings published Tuesday painted a picture of workers content to let Israelis remain without power to resolve the labor dispute, and a bungled response from the IEC’s management.

The power company management petitioned the National Labor Court Sunday night to order its employees to work in emergency mode, hours after it discovered that some employees were purposely keeping to their usual shift hours despite the storm, apparently at the instruction of the union.

Illustrative image of an Israel Electric Company worker raised by a crane to a utility pole to perform maintenance works, outside Jerusalem on June 10, 2013. (Flash 90)
Illustrative image of an Israel Electric Company worker raised by a crane to a utility pole to perform maintenance works, outside Jerusalem on June 10, 2013. (Flash 90)

 

Management opted not to immediately notify state regulators of the labor dispute on Sunday despite the fact that nearly 200,000 households had already been without power for hours, the financial daily The Marker reported Tuesday, citing Labor Court records.

The report said that the workers’ union also barred maintenance employees from moving about the country in order to assist other employees in their efforts to repair broken power lines.

The National Labor Court ruled that for 72 hours, or as long as the weather conditions dictated work in emergency mode, the employees and the company’s management had to set aside their differences and refrain from pursuing their dispute at the expense of the public.

On Sunday, one person was killed and 20 more injured as high winds and heavy rain battered the country, knocking down trees and a crane in central Israel, and flooding roads in the south. The rain is expected to continue sporadically throughout the week.

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