Roads flood as rainstorm wallops Israel

Drivers rescued from cars in cities south of Tel Aviv, as winter system blows through; Beirut also sees inundated roads

People walk in the rain in the northern Israeli city of Safed on December 9, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)
People walk in the rain in the northern Israeli city of Safed on December 9, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Heavy rain lashed central and northern Israel on Monday, flooding roads and leaving some drivers in need of rescue, as the first major storm of the winter blew into the region.

Heavy flooding was reported in Ashdod, Ashkelon, and other parts of the lowlands south of Tel Aviv.

In Yavne, two drivers required rescuing by police, after their vehicles were stuck in standing water on the city’s Jerusalem Boulevard.

Some 50 millimeters (nearly two inches) of rain fell in the coastal city of Ashdod, where roads became inundated, bringing traffic to standstill and submerging some cars.

Further down the coast, Ashkelon was similarly drenched. Six people, including a pregnant woman, were rescued Sunday night, and rising waters damaged a number of homes.

There were no injuries reported from the flooding Monday.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said that hiking trails along wadis in the Judean Desert were closed, as was the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve in the Dead Sea area, as dry river beds swelled with the rains.

The Israel Electric Corporation reported that over the past day, it detected 188 lightning strikes in Israel, 248 percent of the annual average for December, which is usually 76 strikes for the month.

An IDF soldier remained hospitalized in serious condition Monday, after being struck by lightning the night before, during an exercise.

In the Golan, the Hermon mountain range saw its first flakes of snow, Channel 12 news reported.

The stormy weather was expected to persist into Tuesday, with the center of the country and the north taking the brunt of the system. The country will get a brief break on Tuesday night and Wednesday, before a new storm system is expected to move in on Thursday, bringing more cold weather and rain.

Screen capture from video of flooding the city of Ashdod, December 9, 2019. (Twitter)

The wintry weather is also playing havoc in Israel’s northern neighbor, Lebanon.

In the capital Beirut, heavy rains turned streets into small rivers, stranding motorists inside their vehicles and damaging homes in some areas.

The flooding came as protesters have been holding nearly two months of demonstrations against the country’s political elite and decades of widespread corruption and mismanagement. Protesters remained in their encampments in Beirut and other cities, amid the heavy rain.

Vehicles are stuck in a flooded tunnel in Beirut’s southern suburb of Ouzai, Lebanon, December 9, 2019. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Despite spending billions of dollars since the 1975-90 civil war on improving infrastructure, Lebanon still suffers hours-long electricity cuts every day, and many people rely on tanker trucks to bring water to their homes. Every year when it rains, roads get flooded with water because of an inadequate sewage system.

The rain began to fall Sunday morning and has affected the entire country, but Beirut and its suburbs were hit the worst.

In the southern suburb of Ouzai, cars were nearly submerged in the rising water, leaving motorists stranded. A tunnel that passes under the Rafik Hariri International Airport remained closed for hours because pumps that clear water from inside it did not work.

A man was seen using a surf board to pass through the tunnel, while in other parts of the city, some residents used small boats to get around.

Outgoing Minister of Public Works and Transpiration Youssef Fenianos blamed the crisis on what he said was 50-year-old infrastructure and population increases in some areas. He added that as a result of Lebanon’s recent economic and financial crisis, it was difficult to open lines of credit for infrastructure work.

“I am ready to take full responsibility,” the minister said during a news conference.

Fenianos was part of the Cabinet of former prime minister Saad Hariri, who resigned on October 29, under fire from anti-government protesters. A stalemate has since ensued, over who should head the new government amid a deepening economic crisis, including a shortage of liquidity and hard currency.

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