Hundreds of local residents are snowed in the Jerusalem hills, as their vehicles are stuck due to the storm that engulfed the region. After rescuing more than 1,500 people, rescue operations by city hall personnel, police, Border Guard and the IDF
are continuing on Friday morning as the roads leading into the Israeli
capital are still blocked.
Drivers were stuck in heavy snow, as local officials struggled to open the most important thoroughfares that connect the city to the rest of the country.
Three aid centers were hastily arranged during the night: Jerusalem's International Convention Center (ICC), a local community center, and an IDF base on route 443. According to city hall, approximately 540 people were helped at the ICC.
|Snowed-in drivers maintain winter cheer (Video: Yaakov and Moria Tsarfati, Adina, David, Ariel, and Yochanan)|
Magen David Adom crews treated 365 across Jerusalem, mainly on the roads in which many residents were stranded – including 20 women in labor. Those evacuated suffered from hypothermia, trembles, frailty, exhaustion, chest pains and fainting spells. Several residents were also evacuated to Border Guard bases.
The Home Front Command established a command center in Latrun, as requested by Jerusalem
City Hall and police. During the night, Home Front and Central Command forces were shuttled to the city and began clearing the thoroughfares and rescuing the drivers using weather-appropriate vehicles.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat addressed the rescue operations: "We are in the midst of a battle against a rare storm. We are working first and foremost to save lives."
He added: "I thank Jerusalem District's chief of police Yossi Friyanty, IDF's Chief of Staff Benny Gantz
, and all the aid organizations for their speedy and commendable mobilization which helped save lives."
Western Wall worshippers in the snow (Photo: Reuters)
Snow at Al-Aqsa Mosque (Photo: EPA) Backyard, before and after (Photo: Avi)
Police and army personnel rescued hundreds of people overnight. Still, many residents complained about the municipality's management and its conduct towards the residents stuck for up to 10 hours on the roads.
Sarit, a Jerusalem resident, told Ynet that she began volunteering without waiting for rescue personnel: "We helped people on the roads. We heard on the radio that people were being evacuated to the ICC, so we simply gathered the stranded people and took them to the aid center."
According to her, when the impromptu volunteers arrived at the ICC there were 500 people waiting, but there was no accommodation – not even a city hall official. She said: "We were there for a few hours. The hall was freezing cold, and there were no drinks and no heaters. We saw children who were not properly dressed with blue faces and we had no way to help them. One woman almost lost consciousness."
Snow stop (Photo: Simcha Shaneman)
Traffic jam in entrance to Jerusalem (Photo: Simcha Shaneman)
Vehicles under Jerusalem Chords Bridge (Photo: Yoss Shaked)
Ziv Salomon, a student on a school field trip, was stuck on the Jerusalem Chords Bridge with 300 other students from Tel Aviv. "We've been here 10 hours without enough water or food or a way to go to the bathroom," she said.
The student added: "One bus is stuck in the snow and its heating system malfunction. The students are freezing."
One group of students waited 10.5 hours before leaving their bus and making their way to the ICC independently.
On Thursday night, drivers attempting to leave the capital before the storm were met with wide-open roads that were quickly clogged up by the snow.
At one point in the evening, drivers were told that the main route out of the city was closed, with police announcing that the main alternative, Route 443, was still open.
|Snowed-in drivers on Friday morning|
|Drivers stuck in Jerusalem roads overnight (Video: Gilad Seidof)|
Hundreds of drivers turned to Route 443, with the understanding that the road was clear. But less than an hour and a half after the snow's arrival, police suddenly announced that the road would be closed until Friday morning.
Many drivers were stuck outside the city and it was unclear how they will extract themselves out of a complicated road system hampered by the historic hills of Jerusalem.
Tal Grossi, who tried to leave the city Thursday night before the storm, said: "I left when they announced the roads were open, but they closed them without notice."
He added: "The municipality and the police are clowns, they know how to photograph with snow-plows and do PR… but you can't get in or out of Israel's capital and hundreds of drivers were not notified on time."
The snow storm shut down school systems across the country.
Noam (Dabul) Dvir, Omri Efraim, Ron Notkin, Yoav Zitun, and Raanan Ben-Zur contributed to this report
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