6 Hikers Drown in Flash Flood

Six young hikers drowned yesterday in a flash flood that suddenly overwhelmed them in a deep gorge near the Dead Sea. Four other members of the party managed to scramble to safety and another nine were rescued by army and police units assisted by helicopters. Police commander Avraham Sastiel of the Judaea region said the tragedy was “the worst natural catastrophe I remember in the Judaean desert.”

The victims–four young men and two women–were identified by police as Gavriel Graber and Baruch Gottlieb, of Kibbutz Hafetz Hayim, near Rehovoth; Yosef Malkieli and Avigail Gadassi, of Jerusalem; Ezra Hayim of Kiryat Gat; and Yael Hayim, of Givat Yearim, near Jerusalem. Most of the other hikers were members of Hafetz Hayim, a kibbutz of the Agudat Israel movement or were staying at the kibbutz.

They had set out on their trek from Mitzpeh Shalem, an observation post west of the Dead Sea, yesterday morning when the forecast was for “warm to fair” weather. Only a day before, however, a private car and a bus were inundated in the Dead Sea region by flood waters pouring down from the Judaean Hills as a result of premature winter rains, All of the occupants of the vehicles were rescued. Tel Aviv was also lashed by heavy rains which began at midday yesterday after a sunny morning.

Because of the flash floods and early onset of the rainy season, the young hikers were warned not to enter the steep gorges that snake through the uninhabited region of hills and sand dunes near the Dead Sea. But the group leaders apparently saw no danger and the 19 hikers made their way into the Wadi Dargot, south of Mitzpeh Shalem.

They were walking eastward toward the main road on the Dead Sea shore when flood waters suddenly poured into the dry riverbed, Four members of the party were able to climb out of the gorge and nine others clung to ledges until rescued. The body of a drowned girl was found shortly afterwards. The other five bodies were not located until last night.

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