Outcry at ‘lack of preparedness’ in wake of storm

Electric corp. heavily criticized for mass outages during storm; MK Miri Regev follows state comptroller in calling for probe into response

A girl plays in the snow at the Armon Hanatziv promenade on a snowy winter's day, Saturday, December 14, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A girl plays in the snow at the Armon Hanatziv promenade on a snowy winter's day, Saturday, December 14, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the scale of the consequences brought on by the worst winter storm in decades became clearer Saturday evening, impassioned calls were issued for increased national preparedness for such eventualities.

The severe weather conditions claimed the lives of four people, sealed off Jerusalem and left tens of thousands without power as of Saturday evening.

Local television aired interviews with several citizens affected by the power outages who expressed outrage at the Israel Electric Corporation.

“How can it take them over 48 hours to fix the power? I have been calling and calling their emergency line and no one even answers,” said one woman in Jerusalem, who added that she had seen several cars driving on her street but no one from the electric company.

Similar claims were made by a number of interviewees.

The company’s emergency line, 103, collapsed several times over the past 48 hours.

Channel 2 News broadcast a report Saturday about a Jerusalem home for the elderly coping without electricity since early Friday.

“We didn’t warm up any food, we couldn’t even cook, and we are wearing six layers of clothing on us,” one elderly woman said.

“I called the electric company, they said they knew we didn’t have power and that they were working to fix it. And then they just hung up the phone,” said another.

The chairman of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel, Shlomo Bouhbot, said one national body should be formed to deal with such emergency situations.

“I want to see a situation where, if this happens again, I would make one phone call,” said Bouhbot, referencing the efforts citizens had to make to reach emergency authorities, having to call the police, the electric company and ambulance services separately.

“I myself had to call several places and I was passed on from one place to the next. It can’t be this way,” he said.

Opposition head Isaac Herzog (Labor) said he had warned of the severity of the storm on Wednesday.

“My warnings fell on deaf ears,” he said, adding that Israel “should have activated the National Emergency Authority. There is a lack of preparedness.”

The National Emergency Authority was closed in December 2012 and its mandate absorbed by the Ministry of Home Front Defense.

“We know this country doesn’t get much snow. But we must prepare for situations on this scale,” said Herzog.

Chairwoman of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee MK Miri Regev (Likud) said an investigation must be opened into the functionality of all authorities in the wake of the storm, and that she would call for a Knesset meeting to discuss the matter.

“We must probe what happened. Jerusalem has been sealed off for 48 hours. How can that be? I will call for a meeting first thing next week with all the parties involved,” she said.

Earlier Saturday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said he would probe the country’s response to the storm and assess its level of preparedness.

Shapira said he would probe the responses of the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), Israel Police, public transport companies, municipalities and welfare systems.

Shapira was quoted by Ynet News as saying that the lack of preparedness for stormy weather was “a problem on a national scale.”

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