Over 80 people were treated for respiratory problems on both sides of the Israel-Jordan border on Thursday morning, amid warnings of an ecological disaster following a major oil spill overnight that flooded the highway leading into Eilat. The vast majority of those affected were in Jordan.
Traffic heading to the southern resort city was restarted Thursday morning after several hours of highway closure. The leak, near the village of Be’er Ora, was caused due to damage to the Trans-Israel pipeline, a major oil conduit between the Mediterranean and Red seas that runs from Eilat to Ashkelon.
In Jordan more than 80 people were hospitalized, including 30 workers at Aqaba’s King Hussein International Airport. The city’s residents were ordered to remain indoors, Jordanian media reported.
On the Israeli side, at least three people were treated by paramedics after they inhaled poisonous gases.
A preliminary investigation indicated that the spill was caused after the pipeline was struck accidentally during maintenance work.
Firefighters and environmental groups scrambled to the scene in an attempt to seal the puncture in the pipeline and prevent further contamination, which was described as “considerable” by Guy Samet, the director of the southern region in the Environmental Protection Ministry.
“This is one of the largest [environmental] events in the history of the country,” Samet told Channel 10.
“We’re talking about thousands of gallons of crude oil, which will endanger local wildlife and the surrounding nature reserve,” he said, adding that rehabilitation could take “years.”
The spill was “a couple of kilometers long”, according to an Environmental Protection Ministry spokeswoman who was unable to give more specific information.
Be’er Ora sits in the sparsely populated Arava region, 20 kilometers north of Eilat, beside multiple nature reserves that are home to indigenous flora and fauna, including rare acacia trees and over 280 deer, said Doron Nissim, director of the Nature and Parks Authority’s Eilat chapter.
“From what we currently know, there is extensive pollution. Tomorrow we will perform an analysis of the damage and then we’ll have a clearer picture,” he told the news site Ynet on Wednesday night.
Route 90, Israel’s longest road and the main route of access into the resort town, was affected in both directions between Ketura and Eilat, roughly 50 kilometers (30 miles) apart.
Police rerouted traffic overnight to route 12, which skirts along the Egyptian border.