Major floods hit Israel after 20 percent of yearly rainfall in just 2 hours

Two people died after rains flooded an elevator in the southern area of the city. Emergency rescuers used scuba gear in an attempt to rescue the man and woman trapped at a basement garage level. The elevator locked automatically due to an apparent electrical shortage. Rescuers said the man died at the scene, while the woman later succumbed to hypothermia at the hospital.

Another victim died after flash floods swept away his vehicle in Binyamina, Haifa District.

The fourth fatality was found near Givat Nili, who died in a similar manner. Israel Police confirmed this on Monday morning, January 6. The victim was reported missing on Sunday afternoon as he and his son were traveling to Givat Nili. Officials said the victim’s son, on the other hand, was successfully rescued.

The Israel Police has closed several roads across the affected areas.

“During the day, a stormy winter system plagued most areas of the country, Tel Aviv in particular” the Israel Police stated. “Thousands of calls were received, and hundreds of police officers throughout the day provided assistance to civilians,” they added.

According to the Tel Aviv government, 74 mm (3 inches) of rain fell in the city on January 4. This is 20% of its yearly rainfall.

As the downpour went on into Sunday, the Fire and Rescue Services were called on to rescue dozens of people who were trapped in flooded homes, vehicles, and roads, particularly in Balfouria, Kiryat Tivon, and Nahariya. Authorities advised residents to stay indoors.

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Image credit: Fire and Rescue Services

“In Israel, in general, cases of flooding are becoming more frequent,” said Gilad Sapir, director of the hydrology department at DHV that belongs to the consulting and management company AVIV AMCG.

“The main reason is that our cities have grown, and an urban city creates by nature a larger flow [of rain water] than in open spaces. The plumbing systems, especially the older ones, were built for the cities of the time, and today, they are just not enough.”

Furthermore, he explained that there is a limit as to how much central drainage pipes can be enlarged, as other infrastructures exist under the streets of Tel Aviv too.

“Another problem in the country is that there are no city building standards,” Sapir noted. “Every [construction] plan can do more or less whatever it likes.”

“Drainage infrastructure is the most expensive urban infrastructure by far. In Tel Aviv, the drainage infrastructure is worth NIS 1 billion (287 739 200 dollars). This is not the amount they have invested, mind you, but rather the amount that must be invested in order to reach the place we would like to be. This project can last decades.”

He further explained that the current infrastructures functioned at the capacity that they were built for, saying it cannot handle situation like the heavy downpour on Saturday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on Twitter his response to the tragedy.

“I am appalled at the tragic death of Eran Herrnstadt and Ali Agbaria and wish to participate in the grief of the families. I urge the citizens of Israel to remain vigilant and exercise caution. I want to strengthen the rescue forces and volunteers for the detection operations,” he said.

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