Photo Credit: courtesy, Israel Police
Southern District Israel Police and IDF officers organizing rescue teams to search for missing team after flash flood strikes Judean Desert hikers.

Nine Israeli students — a boy and eight girls — from a pre-military academy (Mechina) have been confirmed dead, having drowned in a flash flood that suddenly swept them away during a hike in the Nahal Tzafit riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area of the Judean Desert.

One student is still missing. Helicopters spent hours in the skies above the desert cliffs overhead, searching the crevices and difficult-to-reach places for any sign of human life.

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At approximately 8 pm, due to the increasingly severe weather conditions and deepening risk to the rescue forces, it was decided to temporarily suspend the search. “They will resume as soon as possible,” police said.

A total of 25 students were in the group that was on a school field trip Thursday when they were caught off-guard by the raging waters as they rushed into the riverbed.

Fifteen of the teens were rescued, with a girl and boy — both age 18 — having sustained minor injuries and mild hypothermia; they were taken to Soroka Medical Center for treatment. Thirteen students were examined by paramedics and found to be in relatively good condition, with minor bruises from the stones in the river.

A medic and the two guides who were along on the trip were found unharmed.

United Hatzalah has dispatched two teams from the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit to the school in Tel Aviv and to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where family members and fellow students of those who were trapped in the flash flood are gathered. The unit members are tasked with assisting friends and family members as well as treating anyone suffering from psychological or emotional stress.

Israel Air Force Unit 669 Search and Rescue units were deployed to look for the students who are still missing, with helicopters in the air and divers deployed in the water.

On Wednesday day, an 18-year-old Bedouin girl who went out to tend her sheep was swept away and killed in a flash flood near Maa’le Amos in Gush Etzion.

A 16-year-old Bedouin boy living in the Negev was killed after he was swept away by the Mamshit River; he was air-lifted to a hospital in critical condition but did not survive.

Dozens of students were evacuated from a flood near Kfar Hanokdim, located in the Judean Desert, between Masada and the northeastern Negev city of Arad.

Highway 90 between the Arava and Eilat is blocked.

A freak late-spring storm battered Israel for the second consecutive day on Thursday, as floods reached the southern resort town of Eilat, forcing the closure of the city’s airport and the major highway leading into the city.

Heavy rains included stone-sized hail and 90 kilometer-per-hour winds. One group of Tel Aviv school children had to be evacuated from a flooded shelter.

The Ministry of Agriculture said Thursday it had not yet evaluated the storm’s economic price tag, but added that Ministry inspectors had not yet had a chance to survey the damage.

According to the Israel Meteorological Service heavy rains drenched nearly every area of the country, with 54 mm falling in Kibbutz Negba, 26 mm in Tel Aviv and 30 mm at Hafetz Haim, in central Israel.

Although the timing of the storm was unusual, it is not unheard of for strong storms to hit Israel in the second half of April: In 2015, 2013 and 2006 similar quantities of rain fell during the month, but because they happened before the Passover holiday, many people associated the storms with the winter season, rather than with the summer.

According to the Israel Water Authority, about 75% of the country’s annual rainfall occurs between December and February, with the remaining rainfall, about 25%, at the beginning and end of the season. In the coastal region, some 50% of the precipitation accumulates before December 31, while in the Jerusalem area this percentage is only achieved towards the end of January. Roughly 70% of the rain returns to the atmosphere directly from the ground or by evaporation, about 5% flows through the rivers, and 25% seeps into the groundwater.

More significantly, Prof. Haim Gvirtzman, an expert in hydrology at the Institute of Earth Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said the storm is unlikely to affect a five-year drought that meteorologists say is the worst to hit the region in the past 100 years.

“The rain will not really affect the water level,” he told TPS.

Content by Mara Vigevani/TPS was used in this report.

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