KKL-JNF to the Rescue at the Height of Storm Alexa

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 10:28 AM

"The initial assistance that we received from KKL-JNF was the most crucial to us in those difficult hours that we experienced here."

The worst blizzard in twenty-two years hit Israel this weekend. Great quantities of snow left highways blocked, cities besieged and people stranded. Sixty thousand homes had no electricity at the height of the storm, and many people, especially in Jerusalem and in northern Israel, were left without means for heating. An unusual amount of rain and hail fell in central and southern Israel, which caused extensive flooding. KKL-JNF assisted rescue teams all over Israel and publicized warnings not to enter the forests due to the danger of falling trees. All KKL-JNF rescue activities during the storm were per the instruction of KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler.


Flashfloods in Nahal Besor. Photo: Tali Babai

Up to early December, this winter was the driest Israel had seen in seventy years, but the storm that began this past weekend and lasted four days broke the Jerusalem snowfall record since 1879. The snow piled up to a height of 40 to 60 centimeters, and an especially great quantity of snow fell in the mountains of northern Israel, reaching a height of 70 centimeters. These statistics demonstrate just how unique this storm was in terms of its force and its extremely low temperatures.

The blizzard cut Jerusalem off and almost completely paralyzed life in the city as of Thursday, December 12, 2013. The electric power grid in the city collapsed because of trees that had fallen on power lines, and many people had no electricity all weekend and suffered from the freezing temperatures.

The IDF assisted citizens during the storm and transported scores of army vehicles, including 35 APCs, to different regions of the country, which helped evacuate sick people, supply provisions and open main roads.

Like Jerusalem, the city of Tzfat in northern Israel was hit hard by the blizzard, and the roads into and out of the city were closed because of the heavy snowfall.

Video: KKL-JNF's Amnon Atoun captures a flashflood in Nahal Besor in the Negev

In southern Israel, flooding blocked traffic on dozens of highways over the course of the weekend. Throughout the southern region there were great quantities of precipitation, and some localities measured rainfall that almost reached their annual average. Snow fell in several southern cities including Dimona, Arad and Mitzpe Ramon. Even from the southern city of Eilat, one could see a rare view of the snowy peaks of the mountains of Edom this weekend.

The water level of the Sea of Galilee rose only a few centimeters over the last few days, because the quantities of rain have not yet produced strong currents in the streams. However, in the highlands and on the southern coastal plain, there were especially strong currents for the first time this year, primarily in the Jerusalem Hills and in the Hills of Judah. The water level of the Ayalon stream rose considerably between Friday and Saturday after a day of rainfall totaling 75 millimeters had accumulated in its catch basin, and the southernmost Sorek and Shikma streams had exceptionally strong currents.


KKL-JNF grader, normally used for forestry work, clears the access road to Tzfat. Photos: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

The recent blizzard is apparently the heaviest December snowfall in Israel since 1992. Called Storm Alexa in world media, it came to an end on Sunday, and over the next few days there will be a decrease in rainfall and a gradual increase in temperatures. Damages sustained by nature and by the drainage systems of the streams will be assessable only within the next few days.

Public Warnings Issued by KKL-JNF

Entering forests is forbidden in view of the danger of falling trees due to stormy weather and snow.

Forests of Northern Israel:
Entering the Tzfat, Biriya, Baram and North Golan forests is forbidden.

Forests of Central Israel:
Entrance to the forests of the lowland, the coastal plain and the highland is forbidden.

Southern Israel:
Entrance to streambed channels is forbidden. Driving is allowed only on regulated roads.

KKL-JNF assists with rescuing drivers and opening roads

KKL-JNF 4x4 firetruck used to access people's houses and to rescue drivers in the north. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

KKL-JNF teams assisted the Israel Police and the IDF in efforts to forge roads in the snow and bring people to the safety of their homes. For 48 hours during the storm, scores of KKL-JNF vehicles were at work in northern and central Israel assisting in rescue operations and in opening roads. Among the vehicles were ATVs, fire trucks—including 2 KKL-JNF Unimog fire trucks,—and graders, all donated by Friends of KKL-JNF from around the world.

Some of the rescue operations in which KKL-JNF teams participated:

On Friday in Northern Israel, KKL-JNF assisted in rescuing a bus full of passengers that was stuck in the vicinity of Meron for more than six hours. As requested by the Police, a KKL-JNF team led by Yiftah Harhol, KKL-JNF Northern Region Director, helped rescue the bus and several cars that needed assistance using a grader and a special fire truck with capabilities for the most difficult terrain. After a few hours the road was open, and the motor vehicles had been safely rescued.

“KKL-JNF foresters use this heavy equipment regularly for clearing roads where trees have fallen,” said Chaim Messing, KKL-JNF Central Region Director. “This equipment is used mostly for earthworks and forging roads, which we do together with the Israel Ministry of Defense, whether for security roads or for infrastructure in the Galilee, in the Negev or elsewhere. During this blizzard, the forging of roads has taken on a different meaning.

Clearing snow from the roads. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

 “The first call for help,” said Messing, “came from the city of Tzfat, which was besieged.” A convoy of heavy equipment loaded on semitrailers made its way from central Israel in the morning, to assist in opening the roads to Tzfat. KKL-JNF graders opened the two main roads, which were closed from Rosh Pina to Tzfat, and from Tzfat to the towns of Jish and Meron. KKL-JNF personnel entered the city with Unimog rescue trucks, which have capabilities for the most difficult terrain, and began assisting in emergency operations together with the Tzfat municipality.

In the Jerusalem vicinity, in coordination with the Jerusalem District Police, a KKL-JNF team went with heavy engineering equipment to open the snowy roads in the area of the Matte Yehuda Regional Council.

Directed by KKL-JNF Chairman Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF teams assisted in the opening of roads to the besieged cities of Tzfat and Ariel, and in the opening of scores of roads for security forces and for the Israel Electric Company (IEC) in the Jerusalem Hills region and in the Upper Galilee. A KKL-JNF team from central Israel also assisted in opening the roads to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.

Ariel mayor Eliyahu Shaviro expressed his heartfelt gratitude to KKL-JNF on behalf of his city in an article in Israel's Maariv (Hebrew) : "KKL-JNF staff worked around the clock, for 24 hours a day, with the assistance of their heavy duty vehicles which they transported here especially. This neighborhood was under siege from Wednesday until Sunday, and was without power for a little over 24 hours.

"Luckily, we were able to reach all houses in Ariel thanks to KKL-JNF's 4x4 vehicles, and provide assistance to residents. It is important for me to emphasize that the initial assistance that we received from KKL-JNF was the most crucial to us in those difficult hours that we experienced here."

Fallen electricity pole in northern Israel. KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Flooded road in southern Israel. Photo: Gil Siaki

Most of the power failures were caused by the many trees that fell during the snowstorm, damaging electric cables and power poles all over Israel. KKL-JNF foresters, who are very familiar with the forested areas, found many trees that had fallen on power lines and caused power failures. Their familiarity with the region enabled them to lead the IEC teams to the problematic locations via access roads that got them there much sooner.

The blizzard caused a great deal of damage in many locations, which will be assessed in the course of the next few days.

“Most of the recreation areas in central Israel, including accessible sites,” said Messing, “sustained severe damage. The highland areas also sustained damage, and tomorrow we will all begin to assess the damage all over Israel and to remove what needs to be removed. There are quite a few cycling and hiking trails that have been damaged, and it is clear to us that it will take quite a bit of time to repair them.”

Photo gallery: Negev projects supported by Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide get a much-needed watery boost.
*Click on each thumbnail for the full image