Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tel Aviv Is Flooded, Build an Ark!

The Loch Ness Monster was spotted in flood waters passing through Tel Aviv yesterday, forcing closure of the Ayalon Freeway, the city’s main north-south thoroughfare. Near the washed-out train tracks, the sail and periscopes of an unidentified submarine could be seen as the underwater craft made its way towards the submerged Halacha exit. Adventurous youths took to rafting down the flooded waterway on their inner tubes.

Of the above, only the Ayalon rafting with inner tubes was actually true, but pictures of the flooding, and its Photoshopped imagery filled the Facebook news feed.

Flooding, however, is no laughing matter, and certainly didn’t bring a smile to the faces of the many drivers stuck in traffic jams for hours as Tel Aviv literally shut down to await the end of the rainfall. The Ayalon Freeway has flooded in the past but there were signs that the 2013 flooding was the “perfect storm.”

The Israeli Navy was called into action to rescue stranded residents of Hadera, a city that found itself without power overnight. An Israeli Air Force helicopter airlifted 15 people to safety after they were stranded atop a roof in the Arab town of Baka al-Gharbiya. Houses were flooded in the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv; streets became rivers in many communities; cars were washed away in flash floods; and train lines stopped operating.

In Jerusalem, broken umbrellas littered the streets as evidence of the heavy winds. The temperature plummeted as the city braced for snow, which could begin falling this afternoon.

I followed the news broadcasts carefully, planning an alternative route home if the Ayalon Freeway would remain closed by the end of my work day. Luckily, the highway reopened just before I was ready to leave. It was full of large puddles but remarkably little traffic.

Apparently many workers, frustrated by the long wait in traffic jams and the closed roads, turned around and went home, to wait for the storm’s end. Many of them had been following specific directions to drive on the Ayalon Freeway, not realizing that Waze, the free mobile navigation application developed by an Israeli software company, had not determined that this important highway was closed.

Warmer, drier weather is due to return to Israel by the weekend. We are thankful for the huge amount of rainfall that has fallen so far this winter, but why does it all have to fall at once?

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