TEL AVIV (Jan. 2)
Israel greeted the new year with large areas buried under snow, or inundated by flood waters and buffeted by high winds.
It was the latest in a succession of fierce storms which meteorologists say were the worst to strike the Holy Land in well over a century.
Scores of highways were closed, including the one linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Dozens of stranded families had to be evacuated and power outages blacked out much of the two cities.
According to the Israel Electric Corp., power lines were downed by the wind and falling trees.
Jerusalemites woke up to 10 inches of snow Thursday morning, which delighted children but rendered the streets impassable to traffic.
Snow covered the Golan Heights and Galilee, the mountainous spine of the West Bank and much of the Negev, reaching almost as far south as the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
Tel Aviv, which enjoys the moderating temperatures of a maritime climate, was spared snow but not rain.
Cloudbursts caused the Wadi Ayalon, normally bone dry, and the usually sluggish Yarkon River to become seething torrents and overflow their banks.
Scores of families had to be extricated from flooded homes in Petach Tikva and in the Ezra Quarter of Tel Aviv, where, a year ago, Scud missiles rained down, courtesy of Iraq.
Flatlands became lakes, covering roads, and highways in and around Tel Aviv. Over 40 main roads and highways all over the country were closed by floods Wednesday, including most roads leading out of Jerusalem and those throughout Galilee and the Golan.
WETTEST DECEMBER IN 130 YEARS
By nightfall Thursday, about 20 highways were still awash with flood waters or closed to traffic because of structural damage.
The New Year’s storms were the climax of the freak weather that beset Israel in the final month of 1991.
According to the meteorological service, it was the wettest December in Palestine since the ruling Turks began to keep records of rainfall in 1880 — 130 years ago.
The record precipitation raised the level of Lake Kinneret, Israel’s largest natural reservoir, by nearly 5 inches in 24 hours.
But that was far from recouping the losses of three successive years of drought. Water authorities say the lake must rise another 9.5 feet before it is back to “normal.”
Weather forecasters said the storm would taper off Thursday night, though rain and snow would continue for another day or so. Still another storm is lurking, so far, out of the range of the radar screens, the forecasters said.
Meanwhile, Israel Defense Force helicopters plucked two Egyptian sailors out of the Mediterranean Sea, off the port of Ashdod on Thursday.
Their small freighter, Maya, foundered in 75 mph winds while enroute from Port Said to Beirut with a cargo of vegetables. Three other seamen were reported missing.
The Maya sent out distress signals but rescue ships could not approach it because of the hurricane-force winds and towering waves.