Deadly heat wave broils Israel, drives record electricity use
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Deadly heat wave broils Israel, drives record electricity use

Temperatures soar into the upper 40s Celsius throughout the country; firefighters battle wildfires, rescue people from elevators; at least three deaths blamed on heat

People lie on a beach as others cool off in the water in Netanya on May 18, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
People lie on a beach as others cool off in the water in Netanya on May 18, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

An intense heat wave blanketing Israel peaked Tuesday after killing at least three people, driving electricity usage to its highest level ever and causing blackouts that trapped dozens in elevators in one central Israeli city.

Temperatures in some parts of the country soared past 45 degrees Celsius (113 F), as several days of high heat continued to bake the country, with relief only expected at the end of the week.

At least three deaths have been blamed on the heat, including an 82-year-old man found dead on the side of the road in the northern city of Safed on Tuesday afternoon.

Police have launched an investigation, but a Magen David Adom paramedic who pronounced the man dead at the scene said he showed signs of severe dehydration and heat stroke.

On Monday, a 41-year-old man was found dead in a sealed car in the northern town of Hadera. He had apparently fainted in the vehicle and suffered deadly heat stroke while unconscious. And on Sunday, a man in his sixties collapsed and died on a street in Dimona from heat-related causes.

The searing heat wave has driven record electricity use, the Israel Electric Corporation said Tuesday.

The street in Hadera where a man was declared dead after being found unconscious in a car amid a heat wave, May 18, 2020. (Magen David Adom)

“The all-time record for electricity consumption has been broken,” a corporation statement said. “Today, 19 May 2020, at 1:55 p.m., consumption stood at 13,809 megawatts. The previous record, set in July 2019, was 13,568 megawatts.”

In some areas, the electrical grid struggled to keep up with the spike as air conditioners battled the outside temperatures. Firefighters in Rishon Lezion, a suburb of Tel Aviv, rescued dozens of people trapped in elevators after the area’s power grid collapsed for a short time on Tuesday afternoon.

The city asked residents not to use elevators unless absolutely necessary for the duration of the heat wave.

Electric Corporation repair crews are on high alert to repair any electric infrastructure that overloads, it said in a statement, with chairman Yiftah Ron-Tal insisting on Tuesday that it was prepared for “extreme situations.”

The heat was expected to last for much of the week, and is on track to setting another possible record — longest official heatwave.

The temperatures reached 38 C (100 F) in Jerusalem, 41 C (106 F) in Beersheba, 36 C (97 F) in Tel Aviv and 33 C (91 F) in Haifa. Rishon Lezion and Lod both saw temperatures of 42 C (108 F).

Israelis walk along the beachfront promenade in Tel Aviv, as temperatures rise over 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) in some parts of the country, May 16, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The hardest hit area was the Jordan Valley and areas south of the Sea of Galilee, where temperatures of 48.1 C (118.6 F) were measured at Kibbutz Tirat Zvi. The nearby city of Beit Shean sizzled under 44 C, (111 F) heat and temperatures of 46 C (114.8 F) were recorded in settlements near the Palestinian city of Jericho.

The especially dry heat also caused multiple wildfires, including one in the Jerusalem hills near Kiryat Ye’arim, in Kafr Kanna in the Galilee, near Rishon Lezion, and near the Adam settlement in the West Bank north of Jerusalem.

Firefighters said none posed immediate threats to residential areas, though some homes in Adam were evacuated by firefighters. Two Palestinians were arrested on suspicion of starting the fires, according to Channel 12 news.

Temperatures are predicted to remain high into Friday, and begin to cool over the weekend.

Firefighters extinguish a forest fire near Moshav Tslafon, May 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Citing the heat, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein lifted the requirement to wear face masks in public spaces that is part of Israel’s battle against the spread of the coronavirus, until Friday.

“We take seriously the need to protect ourselves from the virus, but the heat wave could be dangerous too,” Edelstein said in a statement released Monday night. “With the recommendation of the professional echelon, I have decided to lift the requirement to wear masks in places that are not crowded.”

Magen David Adom has placed rescue crews on high alert throughout the country, the service said.

MDA said it had received over 1,000 emergency calls since Friday related to the heat, 588 with complaints of weakness and dizziness apparently related to dehydration, 293 people who had fainted, 68 confirmed dehydration and six with heat stroke.

Officials are especially worried about the possibility of small children being forgotten in cars, a phenomenon that claims the lives of a few children each year in Israel during the summer months.

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