Massive Storm Batters Israel; Nine Dead In Arava Desert Tragedy, Scores Wounded Around Country 

Photo by Hillel Maeir/TPS on January 24, 2018

Massive Storm Batters Israel; Nine Dead In Arava Desert Tragedy, Scores Wounded Around Country

Written by Andrew Friedman/TPS on April 26, 2018


At least nine students were killed and 13 rescued in a flash flood in the Arava Desert caused by torrential rains that swept the country Thursday. At least 87 people were injured around the country.

The group, 25 students at a pre-military academy (mechina) in the Tel Aviv area, were trapped  when the canyon they were hiking in, Nahal Tzafit, located south of Dimona, when the canyon suddenly filled with rushing water shortly after 2 pm.. Thirteen students were rescued, and seven pronounced dead after being found by search and rescue teams. 

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As of this writing, IAF, Israel Police and Magen David Adom search and rescue teams continue to operate in the area. One person is still missing. Police have closed more than 200 kilometres of Route 90, the main north-south highway leading through the region, from the Dead Sea to Eilat.

Nadav Eylon, head of the emergency response unit in the Arava District, said “This area is very flood prone, especially when there are large amounts of rain in a short period of time. The entire stream filled with water and we are afraid that the entire group was swept away with the water, and it’s making [the rescue efforts] very difficult.” 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was following rescue developments “first hand,” while President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin and Chief Rabbi David Lau offered prayers for the speedy recovery for the wounded and the safe return of the missing hiker.

In addition, MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) visited the pre-military academy on Thursday afternoon to offer his condolences. “I was in the area and I heard the news, so I decided to come here and offer my hugs and support,” Glick told TPS. “There are people here that may have lost their friends, who they spent a whole year with. They’re devastated, they don’t yet know that their entire lives will be divided to before and after this event. There are young boys and girls here, crying, hugging. I didn’t want to disturb them, only to hold them,” he added.

The incident was at least the third weather-related tragedy to strike as a result of a freak late-April storm that has battered Israel for the past two days. Wednesday, two teenagers were swept away by flash floods during the heavy rain, which also included stone-sized hail and 90 kilometer an hour winds. One group of Tel Aviv school children had to be evacuated from a flooded shelter.

Earlier Thursday the Ministry of Agriculture told TPS it had not yet evaluated the storm’s economic price tag, but the Israel Meteorological Service said that the heavy rains had 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 as of 3 pm Thursday.

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.


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