TEL AVIV (Feb. 26)
For the thousands of Israelis who endured the gamut of woes from annoying inconvenience to loss of property, injury and death, it may have been small consolation to learn that the succession of fierce storms which has hit their country — and much of the Middle East — this winter is a meteorological phenomenon unprecedented in the 20th century.
In another era, the populace may have cringed before the “wrath of God.” Now they are blaming bureaucrats, planners and contractors for building an infrastructure that proved unable to cope with extreme conditions.
The ferocious storms first struck Israel in December and have continued, with brief periods of respite, ever since.
The latest, which brought record snowfalls and flooding, roared over the country Monday afternoon and continued Tuesday.
In volume of rain, snow and hail, low temperatures and high winds, its like has not been experienced since the Ottoman Turks began keeping meteorological records for the province of Palestine in the 1880s.
Although the storm was expected to diminish gradually by the end of the week, weather forecasters were predicting that another of similar intensity could be expected around Sunday.
As they braced for it, Israelis scrutinized their system of roads, bridges, flood barriers and power grids built at great expense over the years, only to collapse in large part under abnormal conditions that the experts failed to allow for.
An example is the Ayalon Freeway, a recently opened limited access superhighway that bisects Tel Aviv along both banks of the Ayalon River.
Its designers came under fierce attack from hundreds of motorists stranded there in a driving rain this week when the highway flooded, stalling their cars.
RECRIMINATIONS OVER BLACKOUTS
Normally, the Ayalon is more wadi — dry gulch — than river. The engineers admitted that when they built the brand new highway, they estimated that the Ayalon might overflow once in 40 years.
“In anticipation of so rare an occurrence, it was not considered worthwhile to spend extra millions of dollars to build higher flood barriers along the river banks,” an engineer said.
Also under attack are the builders of the alternate road that snakes up the slopes of Mount Carmel to syphon traffic bound for the Upper Carmel suburbs away from the congested Tel Aviv-Haifa coastal highway.
The just-completed road partially collapsed during this week’s storm.
The roofs of large buildings collapsed under the weight of snow in many towns and villages in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.
In Jerusalem, where trees uprooted by hurricane-force winds knocked down power lines causing prolonged blackouts, the municipality and the Israel Electric Corp. were locked in debate over who was responsible for not pruning or felling old trees.
It turns out the residents of arboreal neighborhoods were responsible. Contractors who came to cut down potentially dangerous trees were sent away by householders who wanted to preserve the greenery.
This week, they found themselves without light or power for heating and cooking. The Electric Corp. made amends by firing its spokesman for alleged failure to give correct information to the public.
MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF DAMAGE
So far, nobody has put a price tag on what is being called here “the mother of all storms,” as if only Saddam Hussein-style hyperbole could do it justice.
Unofficially, property losses are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hundreds of head of cattle and millions of chickens were destroyed, as were hundreds of tons of bred fish.
Flower-growers estimate their entire season’s export crop was destroyed in one night when greenhouses were blown away or shattered by hail.
Citrus farmers say hailstorms wiped out entire groves of orange and grapefruit.
No price tag can be put on the work days lost because snow immobilized the Golan Heights, large parts of Galilee, the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Schoolchildren missed a week of lessons because they were either snowbound or could not study in freezing classrooms.
Considering the ferocity and duration of the storm, deaths and injuries were low.