JERUSALEM – A week after a massive pre-winter rain and snowstorm struck Israel, large portions of the country, including Jerusalem and its environs, are still struggling to return to normal daily life.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the nation’s municipalities, emergency service agencies, and the IDF for their heroic efforts to save lives during and after the storm, millions of frustrated local citizens and intercity commuters bombarded Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s office, bus companies and Israel Railways with angry phone calls.
As of Tuesday evening, Israeli police continued to shut down portions of Road 1 and 443 between Tel Aviv, Modiin and Jerusalem due to late night and early morning icy conditions near the entrance to Jerusalem. This resulted in massive traffic jams when roads reopened during the morning commute. Unlike the immediate spreading of large amounts of salt on major roads during winter storms in major American cities, Israeli authorities could not decide who was responsible for salting intercity roads and were unable to determine whether there was enough manpower to do the job. Thus, bus transportation from Tel Aviv and nearby Modiin to Jerusalem was sporadic or non-existent, forcing thousands of workers in both cities to either stay home or find alternate transportation to Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, Barkat struggled to maximize the capabilities of salt trucks and tractors at his disposal, as many of the city’s bus lines were unable to offer service in most parts of the region, with many streets remaining unplowed and impassable. Jerusalem’s renowned light rail system finally returned to partial service on Monday evening. Only about half of metropolitan Jerusalem schools were reopened by Tuesday, three days after the storm – which dumped two feet of snow across the city – had dissipated.
Ironically, Israel Railways service between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv operated during and after the storm. However, on Tuesday, three days after floods enveloped part of the tracks between Modiin and Tel Aviv, service between the two cities (including Ben Gurion Airport), was not fully operational. This forced tens of thousands of people to cram into buses and take taxis.
Residents of northern Israel, especially those in Safed and the Golan Heights, were slowly beginning to see power restored and roads plowed. Many citizens there and in northern Samaria were stranded for several days until the IDF plowed the roads. Soldiers distributed foodstuffs and evacuated dozens of families.
Local volunteer organizations, like United Hatzalah of Israel, worked around the clock to assist citizens in need. Among its diverse actions, the groups distributed challah before Shabbat (most supermarkets and bakeries in Jerusalem were shuttered), delivered babies, and assisted seniors.
Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, told The Jewish Press, “There were so many fascinating incidents during the height of the storm and afterwards. For instance, one of our top volunteers and head of international relations, Daniel Katzenstein, got a call from a 75-year-old lady with diabetes. Her sugar was a bit high but standard for her condition. Daniel explained to her that ambulance response time was running at 45 minutes or more and the hospitals would be swamped with cases. She said that she did not want an ambulance and certainly didn’t want to go to the hospital. She has regular visits to the nearby medical clinic to manage her diabetes and other medical conditions.
“Daniel asked why she called,” Beer continued. “She said that her legs were getting cold as the diabetes diminished blood flow to her extremities. She began to sob to Daniel that she was alone, and after a recent bus accident she couldn’t even wear proper shoes. After looking at her ripped sandals, worn-out socks and loose baggy trousers, Daniel realized the situation. He immediately went on the Neve Yaakov communications net and alerted local volunteers about the situation. We received a bag filled with thermal socks, sweatpants, blankets and warm slippers that Daniel delivered to her.”