Snow falls in Jerusalem and surrounding areas • Citizens around the country got caught in the rain, and special IDF rescue units came to the rescue • Dozens of houses flooded in Bat Hefer, navy commandos called in.
Lilach Shoval, Nitzi Yaakov, Efrat Forsher
Jerusalem was greeted with morning snow on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Contact
Harsh winter weather caught Israel by storm on Tuesday and Wednesday, as snow fell in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and hundreds of Israelis needed rescuing due to snow drifts and severe flooding all over the country.
Meteorologists are describing the current storm as the worst since 1992, the previous time that the drainage canal next to the Ayalon Highway overflowed.
In Jerusalem, schools were let out early, at 12 p.m., and drivers were asked to avoid the roads starting from 1 p.m. About a meter of snow has accumulated on Mount Hermon, and heavy snow fell in Safed Wednesday morning.
Two Palestinian women were killed as their car was caught in a flash flood Wednesday morning.
Police rescued at least six vehicles that had driven into the shoulder of the road in the northern Golan Heights Wednesday morning.
After being disconnected most of the night, the city of Hadera had its electricity restored Wednesday morning.
Rescue professionals from the air force and navy worked overtime Tuesday to save people who found themselves trapped by the raging waters.
The elite airborne rescue and evacuation Unit 669 made several rescues on Tuesday, including in the area of Tayibe. A Blackhawk helicopter swooped down to rescue a man who had climbed to the roof of his car, taking him to Rabin Medical Center in Petach Tikva for treatment.
A more perilous rescue took place Tuesday evening in the area of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, where the unit rescued 15 people trapped on the roof of a house. For over two hours, the unit rescued the trapped people one by one, with the help of a Sea Stallion helicopter, bringing them to dry ground nearby.
"It was a complex rescue, but the unit has carried out more perilous rescues in the past," a member of the air force unit said Tuesday, in the dark, in a populated area, in difficult weather conditions with strong winds.
In addition to these two rescues, helicopters from Unit 669 were dispatched to other incidents, but did not end up carrying out any rescues there. The unit had increased its readiness and more than doubled the number of teams in anticipation of the inclement weather.
In addition to Unit 669, other Israel Defense Forces units were kept very busy on Tuesday. The navy was summoned on Tuesday night to rescue operations in Bat Hefer and Hadera, in which it used all the means at its disposal — including rubber boats and water siphons. Both missile boats and control boats, which are equipped to administer first aid, took part in the operation.
About 50 divers were dispatched to Bat Hefer along with several vessels from the special units of ZAKA, an organization of volunteer emergency response teams. ZAKA Special Units Commander Chaim Otmazgin said that dozens of families in the village were rescued from their flooded homes.
In addition, the Netzah Yehudah Battalion ("Nahal haredi") on Tuesday rescued a bus carrying 30 children in the area of Jenin that had been carried away by floodwaters, as well as two vehicles and an ambulance that had overturned into a ditch. In addition, they rescued another vehicle of Israeli Arabs in the same area.
Many streams in Judea and Samaria overflowed on Tuesday, causing roads to be closed. Many vehicles got caught in the waterways. A 30-year-old man was carried away inside his car near Modiin Ilit. He was rescued by firefighters and police an hour later. He received treatment on site from emergency rescue services, and was evacuated to a hospital in fair condition.
Panic arose in the same area on Tuesday afternoon when a resident of Modiin Illit discerned several children playing in a dangerous way near the turbulent stream. The woman called ZAKA, who surveyed the area and determined the children had not fallen into the water.
In light of the extreme weather in Israel, Homefront Defense Minister Avi Dichter ordered the opening of an emergency control center at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The Homefront Defense Ministry released a statement calling on all Homefront Defense regional coordinators to provide data on their districts.
The last time the emergency control center was opened was during Operation Pillar of Defense in November, when Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at southern and central Israel. The control center is staffed by the IDF Homefront Command, police and rescue service personnel to provide the homefront defense minister with a nationwide status update around the clock.
The Homefront Defense Ministry has also put additional rescue teams on standby, some of which have already been deployed to various areas in Israel.