Police, municipality dig in as snow starts in Jerusalem
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Police, municipality dig in as snow starts in Jerusalem

Route 443 open for now but capital preparing for gridlock as forecasters predict heavy snowfall overnight

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

The Jerusalem Municipality prepares tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem this week, January 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Jerusalem Municipality prepares tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem this week, January 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jerusalem municipality and the city’s emergency services battled Monday night with the first limited build-up of snowfall in a forecasted two-day storm that hit the capital earlier in the day.

Police said they had reopened Route 443 — one of the two main highways in and out of the mountainous city — in both directions, after briefly shutting it to traffic earlier in the day after visibility dropped to just meters and amid fears of icy mountain roads.

Other roads, however, remain closed, including Routes 35 and 60 in the Hebron area, and Route 90 near the Dead Sea.

A police spokeswoman said authorities will decide whether to close more roads — or segments of them — after assessing whether driving on them would risk the security of travelers. If necessary, both Routes 1 and 443 may be closed overnight or on Tuesday, she added.

A special hotline at phone number 110 is open for calls regarding the situation on the roads.

Forecasters have predicted several centimeters of snow in Jerusalem and other high-elevation areas in the central hills over the next two days, possibly bringing the area, which is unused to and largely unprepared for serious snowfall, to a standstill.

In anticipation of a heavy sprinkling overnight, the municipality announced it would be providing a number of emergency transport services in the case of road closures.

Special bus services will be running, including a number of lines taking people to and from the city’s main hospitals, the municipality said in a statement.

In case the light rail closes down, buses will take people from station to station, and if police end up closing the main highways out of the city, additional Israel Railways trains will be running from the Malcha station toward the cities of the coastal plain.

In an attempt to keep the main thoroughfares open, tractors have been deployed across the city to work overnight clearing roads.

The municipality also published a list of precautions on its website that could help residents avoid injury caused by a build-up of snow and strong winds, which are expected to reach speeds as high as 80 kph (50 mph).

“Remove objects that are not secured and could fall from a height or be blown away (planters, garden furniture, signs),” the site read. “Avoid standing under pergolas, huts or temporary structures with more than 10cm of snow on top, as it may collapse.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset that his government was “doing a lot” to cope with the coming storm.

“I was just updated by the public security minister, the police commissioner and the director of the Israel Electric Corporation — they are all prepared, also the municipal hotlines, the Home Front Command [of the IDF] and all emergency services. Everyone is working.

“We have been through much more difficult storms and I hope we pass this one without casualties. What the public needs to do is simply to follow the instructions [of security and emergency services], stay in the house more. We will stay in this house and are doing our job,” Netanyahu said in reference to the Knesset.

The capital is expected to see temperatures just below freezing, or -1°C (30°F), overnight, rising to 2°C (36°F) during the day Tuesday. In Tel Aviv, temperatures will run from 6°C (43°F) overnight to 10°C (50°F) during the day, in Beersheba 2°C (36°F) to 6°C (43°F), on Mount Hermon at the northernmost point on the Golan Heights -9°C (16°F) to 0°C (32°F), and in Eilat 5°C (41°F) to 14°C (57°F).

Earlier on Monday, rainfall raised the level of the Sea of Galilee and shut desert roads amid fears of flash floods.

Rainfall that began Sunday led to a 2-centimeter rise in the Sea of Galilee’s level by Monday afternoon, even as much of the rainfall has concentrated on the center of the country, too far south to have contributed to the increase.

As the mountains around Jerusalem and the Judean Hills were pelted with periodic strong rains and some flurries, the main north-south highway in the Jordan Valley, Route 90 along the Dead Sea, was shut over fears of flash floods crashing down on the road from the riverbeds of the West Bank highlands to the west.

The army has ordered the closure of sections of Route 60, the main north-south highway through the central West Bank, as parts of the road were expected to freeze overnight and persistent snowfall was predicted.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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