South Tel Aviv residents on Sunday blamed local authorities for the flooding in the city over the weekend due to stormy weather that resulted in the drowning deaths of a man and a woman in a basement elevator.
Locals said the municipality had ignored its numerous warnings about the area’s infrastructure woes and failed to clear sewage drains of debris.
But Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai on Sunday declined to take responsibility for the flooding, saying “there were no drains in the world” that could have contained the “once-in-50-year” downpour.
Parts of central Israel saw record rainfall as a storm blew into the area Saturday, with massive downpours flooding streets and swelling rivers in some places. According to Ynet, 71 millimeters (almost 3 inches) of rain fell in Tel Aviv over the course of a two-hour period, almost half the monthly average for January.
Idan Riani, a resident of Jaffa, an area south of the city that is part of the Tel Aviv municipality, said area residents could sue the city for what he described as neglect.
“There were years in which the winters were far worse and it never reached this situation,” he fumed to the Walla news site. “It’s entirely because the municipality did not clear the drains. All the water was concentrated there. There is always neglect in the area of south Tel Aviv. It seems the city doesn’t care.”
The drains on his block, he said, were blocked by garbage and abandoned furniture. Despite calls by residents to have the city clear the waste, the drains remained obstructed, causing massive flooding that damaged cars and property in the area.
The victims were named on Sunday as Dean Yaakov Shoshani and Stav Harari, both 25.
— ידיעות אחרונות (@YediotAhronot) January 5, 2020
In Saturday’s fatal flooding, officials said the elevator became stuck, possibly due to a power outage. Residents told Hebrew media they heard banging from the elevator and called police but that rescue services took 30 to 60 minutes to arrive.
Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai sent his condolences to the families of the drowning victims, but blamed the rapid rainfall, rather than the infrastructure, for the crisis.
“Yesterday, the rainfall levels were a once-in-50-year [event]. There is no drainage system in the world that can deal with this flow,” Huldai claimed in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.
He said areas of south Tel Aviv received twice as much rain — some 80 millimeters — than other areas of the city during the storm.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 5, 2020
Police have said they are investigating the elevator deaths.
A Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council member, Shula Keshet, called for a municipal commission to be form to investigate the city’s handling of the incident.
“This is a black mark on the record of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and its mayor, and this time also cost the lives of two people,” she told Walla. “An investigative commission must urgently be formed, with the authority to summon witnesses and draw conclusions about the neglectful conduct, from the contractor of the parking lot [of the flooding building] and up to the mayor.”
Residents of working class south Tel Aviv and adjacent Jaffa, home to several Arab-majority neighborhoods, have long complained of neglect from city officials and others compared to better-off neighborhoods in north and central Tel Aviv.
A tenant in the building, identified only as Eli, told Army Radio Sunday that emergency services failed the victims. “I called 16 times and they hung up. It reminded me of a third world country.”
“These people died in our hands,” he said. “We heard them struggling to exit, we couldn’t open the door. There was a moment when we stopped hearing them and we understood what had happened.”
Video published by Channel 12 news showed water rushing into the basement of the building, on Nadav Street in the Hatikvah neighborhood.
— החדשות (@NewsChannelIL) January 5, 2020
Alfred Jadid, the owner of the building, also accused the police and fire services of taking too long to respond.
“When I arrived the water had already reached the top,” he was quoted saying by the Ynet news site. “We tried to open the doors but were unable to.”
“They weren’t prepared for this,” he said of the rescue workers.
He also said residents of the building called police “maybe 100 times,” something denied by a police source, who told the news site only one call to the emergency hotline was recorded.
A diver from the fire services said the rescue mission was a particularly complicated one.
“The water was murky and dirty. We didn’t see anything,” he told Channel 12 news.
In a statement Saturday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “appalled by the tragic death of two Tel Aviv residents killed in the elevator disaster.”
“I have spoken with the public security minister, the transportation minister, the acting police chief and head of fire and rescue services to look into how this happened and how such disasters can be prevented in the future.”
The heavy rainfall caused extensive flooding in other parts of Israel as well.
In northern Israel, a man in his 70s died in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Bialik after he was electrocuted by a heater in his home.
Videos posted to social media saw streets in Tel Aviv and Jaffa flooded, with water reaching near the roofs of cars.
A 55-year-old woman was discovered in a pool of water on the city’s Hakhme Yisrael Boulevard. She was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia but in stable condition.
נזקי מזג האוויר | עקב הגשמים הכבדים, חניית רכבים ביפו הוצפה במים עד לגובה המכוניות
(צילום: רותי לרר) pic.twitter.com/TQPVC9ieW9
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) January 4, 2020
In a number of places around the country, drivers needed to be rescued from cars trying to travel on flooded streets.
Police warned of massive delays in the center of the country as traffic remained snarled as a result of road closures.
In the north, Mount Hermon was closed to skiers and visitors due to adverse weather conditions, which authorities said made the site dangerous for the public.
Snow fell in areas above an altitude of 900 meters (2,952 feet) in the Galilee and Golan regions of the north of the country for the first time this winter, Channel 13 news reported.
The rain tapered off on Sunday, though storms are expected to return by Wednesday.
Parts of northern Israel saw record rainfall last week, with massive downpours swelling rivers, and killing two people.