A massive explosion in the coastal city of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, on Thursday evening startled residents of surrounding cities. It was reportedly caused by improperly stored gunpowder from an old ammunition factory.
Channel 12 news reported Friday that the explosion in an unpopulated, sandy area in an industrial part of town occurred due to deteriorating insulation material placed over explosives that were buried after the old plant was shut down some 25 years ago.
Officials from the plant knew that if the gunpowder was exposed to oxygen, it could catch fire, the report said.
A similar explosion killed two people in 1992, and the plant was closed some five years later.
Thursday’s explosion left a crater in the ground, according to photos said to be of the site.
The explosion was heard across central Israel and the Sharon region, in cities like Ramat Gan, Givatayim, Kiryat Ono, Hod Hasharon, and Rosh Ha’ayin. Residents of Herzliya also reported an unusual odor following the blast and a substance in the air that caused a burning sensation in the eyes.
A family sitting by the beach dozens of meters from the site witnessed the explosion. Their car, which was destroyed, shielded them from the brunt of the blast, but they were lightly injured by falling rocks, Channel 12 reported.
The Herzliya municipality asked the security establishment and Israel Lands Authority — which owns the site — to seal off the area and conduct a probe of the explosive materials that remain there. They also asked the public to stay away of the Apollonia National Park and Sidni Ali Beach.
According to Channel 12, the municipality has been asking for the investigation to be conducted for several years, due to the unknown amount of explosives that remain.
Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon said in a statement that the area “is a ticking time bomb that must be neutralized immediately.”
Earlier, Fadlon was quoted by Army Radio as saying that the area was known to have explosives and that a court instructed authorities to clear the area over six years ago. Fadlon didn’t specify the source of the explosives but said: “We are being careless and it’s going to cost us lives.”
“Everyone is busy with the [judicial] reform. This is a mountain full of explosives,” he said, linking the government’s focus on their controversial judicial overhaul to the lack of action to clear the area.
The Israel Defense Forces said there were no military operations in the area at the time of the explosion.
A source in the Israel Fire and Rescue Services told Army Radio that authorities put out a small fire that had broken out at the site. Sappers were on the scene to investigate, said the source.
An eyewitness told Ynet that the “horrific explosion,” which they thought was caused by an explosive device, filled “the whole area” with black smoke.
“I was covered in sand, sand fell on my head. I could not see,” said the witness.
Another resident of the area told Channel 12 news the explosion was so strong he was knocked out of his chair.
“Everything smells like gunpowder, smells like there was a war right under my nose,” he said. “The dogs are gone. It was heard all the way to Tel Aviv. I’m shaking all over and I don’t know what to do with myself or where to go. God help me.”