The deaths of four Israelis in flooding over the weekend focused anger on the authorities’ inability to prepare infrastructure for extreme weather conditions in some of the country’s most populated areas.
Stav Hariri and Dean Shoshani, both 25, drowned after becoming trapped on Saturday in a lift descending to an underground car park in their building in south Tel Aviv.
Neighbours tried frantically to contact emergency services as water poured in, caused by a freak storm over Tel Aviv that created a deluge in numerous streets where sewers and drains were insufficient.
The national fire service, which is responsible for rescuing trapped civilians, received 2,735 calls for help in a 90-minute period just after midday and was able to respond to only a few.
The couple were discovered as neighbours tried to remove their vehicles from the flooding car park. It took 25 minutes to reach an emergency service (Magen David Adom ambulance service, which notified the fire service) by phone, and another hour-and-a-half until a specialist unit of divers managed to break in to the lift. By then, it was too late.
Since Saturday, the authorities have been trading accusations. The fire service said it cannot be expected to employ dozens of additional staff to answer phones at its emergency call centre in case of a flash flood, when such events have not occurred for years. It also claimed that it had no budget for its own divers unit and was therefore reliant on the military.
Tel Aviv City Hall, meanwhile, rebuffed accusations that faulty planning had allowed building in lowpoints and that a neglect of the sewer system led to the flooding.
Mayor Ron Huldai denied his administration had invested less in the lowincome neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv where the flooding occurred. Instead he tried to shift the focus away in a television interview: “there isn’t a problem of infrastructure. There is a problem of (African) infiltrators.”
The Government, which has come under attack for not improving coordination between emergency services and the national weather forecasting service, has largely been silent. But transport minister Bezalel Smotrich did fire a shot towards Mr Huldai by tweeting: “if only Huldai had invested less in populism such as public transport on Shabbat and more in improving infrastructure for his residents.”
Two other people were killed elsewhere in Israel from flooding on the highways, which is Mr Smotrich’s ministerial responsibility.
In the separate incidents, drivers drowned after being swept off the roads in their cars.