A 36-year-old Rishon Lezion resident slid off of his roof and died on Friday during a massive winter storm — said by some to the country’s heaviest in decades — that continued to wreak havoc on Israel and the region.
The man had climbed onto the roof to repair a leak, according to local sources. The impact of the fall from a height of approximately 15 feet was fatal, a Magen David Adom crew that arrived on the scene said.
Tel Aviv and surrounding cities were experiencing hail, heavy rains and flooding on Friday night, while Jerusalem was in the midst of a snowstorm described as “three times worse” than the snows that had hit Thursday and earlier Friday.
Haifa was hit with its first snowfall in 22 years, according to officials, and much of the rest of the country was also grappling with stormy conditions expected to last into Saturday.
In what was described by Channel 2 as Israel’s “worst storm in decades,” large portions of northern Israel were also hit by snow and heavy storms, as was much of the West Bank. Israel and the Palestinian Authority were working together to grapple with power outages and other aspects of the storm’s impact.
Israel was also providing fuel and gas to Gaza, to keep the electricity on in the Strip, which was facing harsh weather conditions including flooding in some areas.
In light of dangerous road conditions, police decided to keep both major major roads leading to Jerusalem (1 and 443) closed overnight.
Israel Railways announced that it would operate two special trains on Shabbat from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and Haifa. The first train was to depart at 11 a.m. Saturday and the second at 2 p.m. They were also to make stops at Beit Shemesh, Lod, Netanya and Binyamina.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Friday night for security vehicles and jeeps that were being held at Latrun — some 16 miles (25 kilometers) from Jerusalem — to be brought into the capital, where they could help with rescue and evacuation efforts overnight. Evacuation of elderly residents was to be given top priority, according to the prime minister’s orders.
The Ayalon Highway was closed for nearly two hours in the area of Tel Aviv over fears of flooding but was later reopened.
Ben Gurion Airport halted operations for 40 minutes earlier Friday to undergo “advanced preparation” for the storm. Some 40 flights did manage to arrive in Israel before the start of Shabbat despite the harsh weather conditions.
The municipality of Tel Aviv set up a makeshift shelter on Yigal Allon St. to take in as many of the city’s homeless residents as possible.
Beginning at approximately 4 p.m. local time, heavy snow began to fall in the capital after several hours of respite. Municipality officials told The Times of Israel that it would be “three times worse” than the storms of previous days. They urged all residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to stay indoors as weather conditions worsened.
As Jerusalem turned white at nightfall, most of the streets were completely empty.
The Israel Electric Corporation reported as of 8 p.m. local time that it had restored power to about 26,000 households in the city, but that a similar number of homes remained without power. Earlier, it had declared a nationwide state of emergency. By midnight, 13,000 Jerusalem homes remained without power.
The Mateh Yehuda Regional Council in the Jerusalem district said it was preparing to evacuate thousands of people in the area who have been without power since Thursday night.
The electric company said it was manning a situation room to receive reports of outages and calling in emergency workers to help restore power to those affected in certain parts of Jerusalem, Mevasseret Zion, Har Adar, Abu Gosh and Tzur Hadassah where many power lines were hit by fallen trees and branches.
Power outages were reported all over the country, with countless small towns completely blacked out from Masada to Safed.
It may take up to two days for full power to be restored. Workers were facing difficulties reaching certain areas due to fallen trees and power lines.
“We did not anticipate the storm to be on this scale,” Oren Helman from the electric company told Channel 2 news.
Officials urged those with power in the capital to host individuals and families affected by the storm — whether unexpectedly stranded in the city or hit by power outages — for the Sabbath.
In neighboring Cairo, residents reported snowfall for the first time in 112 years. Snow was also reported in southern Jordan.
Police instructed citizens Friday to stay indoors and avoid driving on roads, citing life-threatening dangers.
The main arteries leading into and out of Jerusalem, Highway 1 and Road 443, were closed off after thousands of people were left stranded overnight Thursday-Friday by the heavy snowfall, leading the IDF, the police and volunteers to launch rescue operations.
Police said Friday morning that a rescue operation on Road 443 was completed, after rescuers evacuated some 600 travelers from that road.
Crews worked throughout Thursday-Friday night and into the morning to rescue over 4,000 travelers in cars and buses trapped on the roads, at one point putting out a public call for help from anybody with a 4×4 vehicle.
Hundreds were temporarily evacuated to shelters set up at convention centers in the city, including the International Convention Center, or Binyanei Hauma.
The Defense Ministry sent emergency generators and meals to those currently at the centers.
“We are expending every effort to rescue all the people caught in the storm. Only after [the snow] stops will we be able to open the roads,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. “We’re facing a rare storm the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
Public transportation into and out of the city had been called off until at least Saturday evening, and disruptions in bus services were reported throughout the country.
Jerusalemites awoke Friday morning to a city covered in white, and by evening the punishing winter storm had dumped between 30-50 centimeters (12-20 inches) of snow on the capital.
In the capital and in a number of places throughout the country, schools were shut down due to the snow and heavy rainfall, which left some streets flooded.
Though snow is not uncommon in Jerusalem during the winter, it rarely hits this early.
The wet weather, typical of an early winter storm, combined with unusually low temperatures to blanket the capital and other mountainous areas, including the West Bank, the Galilee and the Golan Heights, in snow.
Elsewhere, heavy rains and punishing winds brought down trees and flooded out roads.
In Modi’in Ilit, a one-year-old baby was moderately injured late Thursday night after a roof collapsed on a modular building being used a synagogue. Four other people were lightly injured.
On Thursday, the IDF’s elite 669 search and rescue unit retrieved 10 trapped passengers from a commercial vehicle that was swept away by flood waters in Nahal Gerar, north of Beersheba. The passengers, nine of whom were children, were airlifted to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center in fair condition.
Classes in Jerusalem and other areas were called off Thursday and Friday as authorities braced for snowfall to continue into the weekend.
The Education Ministry set up a hotline for parents to get information about school arrangements. The number is 02-6222211.
The snow began falling in Jerusalem shortly after sunrise Thursday and thin layers of snow began to form on cars. In elevated neighborhoods such as Gilo, the snow piled up, and residents huddled in bus stops, waiting for buses that had temporarily stopped running.
By Thursday night, flurries were reported as low as the settlement of Beit Horon, which at 630 meters above sea level, rarely sees snow fall.
The stormy weather was expected to persist into the weekend, with snow reaching elevated areas as far south as the Negev Desert on Friday.
On Wednesday, high winds, torrential rain and floods inflicted damage in many areas, with some injuries caused by flying debris.
Over 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday morning, some 103 millimeters (four inches) of rain — the monthly average — fell in the capital and 35 mm (1.4 inches) in Tel Aviv.
There were several incidents of people caught in flash floods that swept their cars away.
One man was reported missing after storm waters rushed through a wadi where he was hiking in the Judean desert.
Flash flood chasers streamed down to wadis around the Dead Sea region in the hope of catching the storm waters as they pounded down from the Jerusalem mountains, but some became trapped as roads were flooded in the surge.
Jerusalem authorities had prepared to counter the snow, with 90 tons of salt as well as snowplows being readied. Other municipalities in the country’s north had also braced for snowfall, notably Safed and neighboring towns in the mountainous northern Galilee and elevated communities in the Golan Heights.
“Snow in Jerusalem is a cause for celebration for Jerusalemites and the many visitors who come to see the world’s most beautiful city painted white,” said Barkat, who dropped in on the city’s public works department to check on preparations for the storm Wednesday. “We hope the snow won’t disappoint, especially for Jerusalem’s excited children, who are looking forward to it.”
Inclement weather was also felt in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas’s health ministry said 30 people were evacuated to hospitals after heavy rains caused flooding on Wednesday. Gaza’s Interior Ministry said the roof collapsed on a house in the coastal strip, injuring three people, and families were moved into shelters because of flooding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.