Israel storm of the century

Weather historians are still arguing whether this was the worst snowstorm to hit Israel in 21, 60, 93 or 140 years, but its results are hard to argue with.

From Thursday afternoon, 48 hours of rain, hail and snow — which in Jerusalem piled up as high as 70cm — paralysed transport around the country.

For three days, all roads to Jerusalem were closed and life in the city was at a standstill.

The northern town of Safed and smaller outlying villages were hit even harder. At the height of the storm, 60,000 homes in the area were without electricity and, four days later, thousands were still left in the dark and cold.

This being Israel, accusations were being hurled at the government and local authorities before the snow had melted. The police, which had closed the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv motorway leaving thousands of motorists stranded, and the Israel Electric Corporation, which had not informed customers when they could expect the current to return, also came under fire.

White out: Jerusalem after the blizzard

White out: Jerusalem after the blizzard

The government responded that no-one was killed in the worst-hit areas and that heavy IDF convoys had rescued all the stranded motorists and delivered supplies to cut off areas.

In fact, there were casualties. Two Bedouin men drowned in the south when their vehicle was swept away by an overflowing river, a baby in Lod died from smoke-inhalation when a heater set his bedroom on fire and a man was killed in Rishon LeZion when he fell off a roof he was mending.

At a jovial press briefing on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “The efficient operations and extraordinary co-ordination of all the authorities saved many lives. In other countries, there would have been major loss of life.”

The leader of the opposition, Labour’s MK Yitzhak Herzog, was less impressed. He said: “It’s sad that while thousands of families are still cut off from electricity, the prime minister is focusing on PR.” He accused the government of not initiating the national emergency protocols.

On the streets of Jerusalem, differing views were on display. On Bethlehem Street on Monday, the snow was still piled on the pavements as residents sipped cappuccinos in the sun. “It was uncomfortable for some but it wasn’t an apocalypse and the kids played in the snow,” said Opher Mizrahi, a local shopkeeper. “They will be able to tell their grandchildren of the great storm of 2013.” Reuma Millstein was less interested in history: “When it takes three days for us to get electricity back and we can’t heat our home, the snow looks a lot less attractive.”

Last updated: 12:40pm, December 19 2013