Jerusalem mayor plans to close off city ahead of snow

Nir Barkat hopes to preempt last year’s chaos when drivers were stranded, calls for residents to take responsibility for their own homes

Cars can be seen stuck in the snow at the entrace to Jerusalem after a major snowstorm hits the capital on Friday, December 13, 2013. (photo by Meital Cohen/Flash 90)
Cars can be seen stuck in the snow at the entrace to Jerusalem after a major snowstorm hits the capital on Friday, December 13, 2013. (photo by Meital Cohen/Flash 90)

As sunny skies threatened to turn into a massive snow squall, Jerusalem’s mayor ordered Monday that roads be closed hours before an expected heavy snow storm wallops the city Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference from the municipality’s snow preparedness center, Nir Barkat said roads leading in and out of the capital would be blocked to traffic to prevent a repeat of 2013’s massive snowstorm, when hundreds of cars were trapped in drifts along main highways.

The police, said Barkat, “will block and will not allow traffic on the main roads, the entrance to the city, on the main arteries inside Jerusalem. This is to allow the plows and the security services to keep the roads open, primarily for saving lives.”

Barkat also asked Jerusalem residents to take responsibility for their own homes, and to be proactive in checking on their neighbors.

The snow situation room would be opened Tuesday evening, Barkat said.

He added that snowplows are ready and waiting to clear the roads, after which they will be reopened to traffic. There are 150 snowplows waiting to clear the capital’s roads, significantly more than the 90 that struggled to handle last year winter’s snowstorm.

The IDF Home Front Command urged residents to prepare water, dry goods, emergency flashlights and batteries, warm clothes and blankets, a radio with batteries, a fully charged cellphone and spare battery, and a generator, in addition to checking gutters and tree branches that could fall during the storm.

In marked contrast to the clear skies and bright sunshine on Monday, the Israel Meteorological Service predicted precipitation across the north and center of the country in the coming days, with heavy winds, isolated sandstorms and a strong likelihood of flash flooding throughout the south.

By Wednesday into Thursday snow was expected to fall in the north and in Jerusalem and its surrounding hill country.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat speaking to reporters ahead of a snow storm, January 2015 (screen capture:  Mako)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat speaking to reporters ahead of a snow storm, January 2015 (screen capture: Mako)

Some forecasts predicted as much as two feet of snow (62 centimeters) for higher elevations in northern Israel and in the high-altitude Etzion Bloc, south of Jerusalem.

The snowstorm would be the first serious snowfall in Jerusalem since the capital was slammed with one of the heaviest winter storms on record in December 2013. During that storm the capital and other areas were cut off for days, with electricity down in many places. IDF armored personnel carriers were deployed to rescue stranded motorists as authorities struggled to cope with the scale of the damage.

Municipal authorities in Jerusalem on Sunday began pruning dangerous branches on trees in public areas as well as conducting road inspections to look for potential trouble spots, the Hebrew-language Walla news website reported.

Unstable buildings were also being reviewed and the city hall made arrangements with towing services to quickly remove stranded cars to prevent blocked roads.

Firefighters and the municipal water board were both put on alert to deal with any emergencies or flooding in low places where the expected rain might gather.

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