Heavy rains batter central Israel, cause flooding in cities, highways

A winter storm and heavy rains battered various parts of the country Wednesday evening into Thursday, with central Israel and coastal cities experiencing severe flooding.

Dozens of firefighters and teams of divers were called to the central Israel city of Hod Hasharon after houses, parking lots, and elevators were flooded by heavy rainfall.

In a message sent to all residents, the Hod Hasharon Municipality warned them to avoid unnecessary travel, elevators and parking lots until the water level went down.

On the Route 2 coastal highway, Glilot Interchange just north of Tel Aviv was blocked due to severe flooding in the area, including the entrance to a major army base.

Also flooded were parts of Route 232, near Givati Junction in southern Israel, according to Channel 12 news.

Israel Railways announced that trains would be temporarily unavailable to the central city of Herzliya due to severe flooding in the area. Three women who were trapped at the Herzliya station were rescued by firefighters on an inflatable raft.

“We did not imagine that this is how our morning would look like. We have never seen rain like this in our lives,” one of the women told Channel 12.

Also in Herzliya, a man was lightly injured after falling into a sinkhole that opened up underneath him while he was riding his ATV.

The heavy rain also caused significant flooding at military bases in the Tel Aviv area, causing damage to buildings and equipment, the Israel Defense Forces said.

According to the military, the flooding occurred at the IDF headquarters, known as the Kirya, in central Tel Aviv and in the Glilot base north of the city, which houses many intelligence units.

“Damage was caused to structures and to communications systems. There is no harm to operational capability,” the IDF said.

Due to the cold weather and rain, people who remain outdoors were at risk of hypothermia.

In the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, a 95-year-old man was found lying in the street with low body temperature, according to the city’s Barzilai Medical Center.

Another man, 37, in Moshav Mavki’im, a town just south of Ashkelon, was taken to the hospital due to hypothermia and was released after a brief treatment.

Riverbeds in the eastern and southern parts of the country also experienced flooding Thursday, with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority warning residents not to go near streams or bodies of water until the water levels go down.

The Israel Fire and Rescue Services warned that when there is a risk of flooding, people were not to stay in subterranean parking lots or elevators. Additionally, it warned people not to try to cross large bodies of moving water with their cars, even ones that look crossable, due to the danger of the car being swept away.

Last winter, downpours in northern Israel broke a 51-year record within a two-week period. The generous rainfall in the north raised the level of the Sea of Galilee to its highest in decades and ended a five-year drought that plagued the country.

The water level had come close to its all-time low in April 2017, when the level dropped to 212.95 meters (about 698 feet) below sea level. The current level is minus 209.985 meters (minus 688.927 feet).

Last winter’s floods claimed the lives of seven people.

The Agriculture Ministry announced in August that it would be investing NIS 146 million ($43 million) in an upgrade of drainage facilities across the country, although it was unclear how much had been implemented ahead of the winter.

Scientists have warned that climate change will lead to less rain in Israel but to more extreme downpour events.

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