33,000 Israeli homes still without power 48 hours after storm
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33,000 Israeli homes still without power 48 hours after storm

Outages persist almost 2 days after severe rain and thunder; energy minister, local mayors call to investigate electric company

An Israeli family sits in the darkness in their home, near the Israeli town of Netanya, a day after a powerful rainstorm hit Israel on October 15, 2015, downing trees and hundreds of power lines. (Chen Leopold/FLASH90)
An Israeli family sits in the darkness in their home, near the Israeli town of Netanya, a day after a powerful rainstorm hit Israel on October 15, 2015, downing trees and hundreds of power lines. (Chen Leopold/FLASH90)

Almost two days after an early autumn storm lashed the country with strong winds and heavy rain, some 33,000 households remained without electricity Monday evening amid mounting allegations that Israel Electric Corporation linemen were dragging their feet over an ongoing labor dispute.

Most of the power outages were in the Sharon region north of Tel Aviv, and customers in the towns of Kfar Saba, Netanya, Ra’anana and Ramat Hasharon prepared to spend a second night without power.

As of Monday evening, the IEC said that some 300 high-voltage power lines and electrical wires had yet to be fixed, according to the Walla news website.

Earlier in the day, the company published an official apology saying its teams were “in all places and have worked overnight in full emergency capacity in order to minimize harm to the hundreds of lines hit in during the storm.”

However, a number of reports in recent days indicated that disgruntled IEC employees were taking their time repairing broken power lines to signal their discontent with the management’s moves to streamline the state-owned corporation.

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

“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.

Heavy rain and strong winds as a thunderstorm hits Tel Aviv, on October 25, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Heavy rain and strong winds as a thunderstorm hits Tel Aviv, on October 25, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)

The IEC, Israel’s sole electricity utility, has been mired in a workers dispute for months and critics charged it was not prepared for the ramifications of severe weather conditions.

On Sunday, management petitioned the National Labor Court to instruct employees to work in emergency mode after some managers said employees were purposely working usual hours despite the storm, apparently at the union’s instructions.

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

Meanwhile, mayors of Kfar Saba and Ra’anana on Monday demanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set up a committee to investigate IEC’s management.

“It comes down to the interruption of basic and essential services for tens of thousands of people,” the mayors wrote. “The trust of the public in state institutions has been undermined, and we are among them.”

Later Monday evening, dozens gathered outside the IEC headquarters in Kfar Saba to protest the company’s “inability to supply electricity or repair problems.” According to a report in Ynet, a number of demonstrators broke into the office building.

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 throughout the week.

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