Friday, December 13, 2013

Jerusalem, winter wonderland and capital under siege

Snow blankets Jerusalem and the surrounding area, causing road closures and traffic jams throughout the city and on roads entering and exiting the capital • IEC declares state of emergency • The worst of the chilly weather system expected Friday.

A Jerusalem light rail train pushes through the snow on Thursday
Photo credit: Lior Mizrahi
Fifty centimeters (19.7 inches) of snow fell in Jerusalem on Thursday and Friday (as of press time), leading to a state of emergency in the city, to which entrance and exit roads have been closed.
"I've heard of making guests welcome and feeling at home. This is as far as I've seen anyone go, giving a nice New England snow storm," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday in Jerusalem, where he had arrived to continue peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino on Friday morning to discuss military and police rescue operations for citizens stuck in cars on roads inside of and around Jerusalem.

The Prime Minister further ensured that main arteries inside the city itself be cleared to allow for assistance to be delivered to residents, and he thanked emergency and security forces for working around the clock to help those in cars and busses on the snow-laden roads 1 and 443 into and out of Jerusalem, which are closed due to dangerous driving conditions.
Egged has stopped bus service inside the city and on routes to Jerusalem as well some routes in Judea and Samaria, with service expected to resume on Saturday evening.
The transportation ministry has set up two situation rooms to deal with the more than 11,000 calls from Jerusalem residents and drivers in the surrounding area. Jerusalem is completely closed to traffic and its public transportation has been shut down. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has issued a warning to stay off the roads as much as possible, as more snow and ice is expected both in Jerusalem and in the Negev.
The Defense Ministry has sent two convoys of buses and trucks with generators to Jerusalem to help citizens who have called for assistance. Defense Ministry teams have also delivered more than 1,000 meals to rescued citizens and is preparing to give out 1,500 hot lunches on Friday.
The Israel Defense Forces Homefront Command is working to clear roads in the Jerusalem area, freeing up the effectively sieged city. Meanwhile, the Israel Electric Company has declared a state of emergency, saying that the winds and snowfall caused trees to fall on power grids. IEC warned citizens to stay away from fallen and cut power lines, and announced that restoring power will take "a very long time."
Meanwhile, children rejoicing over the cancellation of school rushed outside to build snowmen and begin snowball fights. "It's so much fun," said 10-year-old Yael excitedly, "I'm happy there's no school, and even happier that there's lots of snow. I'm a champion at building snowmen, and the cold really doesn't bother me."
The worst of the storm is expected on Friday afternoon, with winds reaching 70 km per hour (43 mph) and a steady downpour from the north of the country to the south. On Saturday, the snow will stop along with the rain.
The weather has also affected other parts of the region, with extremely unusual snowfall in both the Sinai and in Cairo.
"On Saturday evening, the [weather] system will weaken," explained Nahum Malik, a forecaster from Meteo-Tech, "and on Sunday, it will already be behind us."

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