Tel Aviv’s main highway and other major arteries were closed Tuesday morning after heavy rains caused surging waters to rise onto the freeway.
In the wettest start to winter in years, police shut down lanes in both directions of the Ayalon Highway, or Route 20, from the Glilot interchange to the Kibbutz Galuyot exit, covering the entire length of Israel’s commercial capital. The road was opened for northbound traffic from the Halacha interchange at noon.
Southbound lanes of the highway were opened from La Guardia road after 2:30 p.m. However, much of the freeway still remained blocked by police.
Television footage showed some of the water receding from the highway and train tracks, but parts still underwater.
Police also reopened Namir Road, another major north-south artery, before 3 p.m. The road has been shut by flooding since the morning.
Train service was also cut off in the city, making getting in and out a near impossibility for commuters.
The highway, running along the diverted riverbed of the Ayalon River, has experienced flooding in the past, including in 2003 and 1993. Police told Army Radio that the road may be closed for 48 hours as rainfall is expected to continue until Thursday.
Police said heavy rains forced the water to rise quickly and led them to close the lanes for fears that the riverbed would overflow onto them.
Route 90 near the Dead Sea was also shut down due to flooding and schools were canceled in the Tamar Regional Council.
Several dry riverbeds in the desert area have experienced flash floods over the last days, with cars being swept away and people needing to be rescued.
At Ben-Gurion International Airport, officials began planning for the possibility that the runways would flood. Israel Radio reported that emergency arrangements have been made for planes to land at Uvda airport, near the southern resort town of Eilat, should the need arise. Uvda is about a four hour drive from Ben-Gurion.
The weather also led to road closures in the West Bank. Police blocked off Highways 50 and 66. Highway 443, between Beit Horon and Jerusalem, was reportedly being closed intermittently. Police later reopened the roads.
In the large West Bank settlement of Modi’in Ilit, the overflowing Modi’in stream overtook a southern neighborhood, trapping resident in their homes. A man trying to cross the surge was swept away and rescued by emergency crews.
In March of 2012, heavy rains caused the stream to swell and a 7-year-old was swept away and killed.
In Tel Aviv, massive traffic delays were reported after the closure. Police recommended Namir Road or Route 40 as alternative routes.
The Yarkon River, which runs from the sea through the city’s northern neighborhoods, also overflowed, endangering the Bavli neighborhood.
Disruptions were also reported for train service in the area, with southbound trains stopping at the Central Tel Aviv station, and northbound stations stopping at either Lod or the Hagana station within Tel Aviv, according to Ynet.
The Herzliya train station was also closed because of flooding.
Train tracks in Tel Aviv run alongside the Ayalon Highway.
Israel has experienced heavy rains and wind since the weekend, with flooding and felled trees reported from the Negev to the north. On Sunday and Monday, several train stations along the coast were closed for flooding, as well as the Azrieli mall in the central city of Modi’in.
While flooded roads and downed trees and power lines have made getting around a nightmare, Israel’s largest water reservoir, the Sea of Galilee, has continued to rise, with 22 centimeters of water being added in the last 24 hours, according to Israel Radio.
After several years of dropping water levels, the lake’s water level now sits less than 10 feet below its maximum, with forecasters expecting several more centimeters in the coming days.
Officials in Jerusalem are also preparing for the possibility of snow on Wednesday, as temperatures dip below freezing in the mountainous areas of the country.
The wintry weather is expected to subside on Thursday.