Search and rescue teams, police and IDF helicopters scrambled on Thursday afternoon to locate a group of school children in southern Israel, ten of whom were found dead, after they went missing as heavy rainfalls drenched the region.
The teenagers, from the Bnei Zion pre-military academy school, were on a two-day bonding trip to Zafit Stream in HaArava. The school trip, though, ended abruptly when they were suddenly hit by a flash flood. Those of the group walking in the middle of the stream were immediately carried off by the massive wave.
The wounded youths were evacuated to Soroka University Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, which declared the tragedy as a mass-casualty incident.
Shortly after 5pm, two of the three remaining missing children were found. The original number of seven said to be in critical condition was raised to nine, who were later confirmed to have drowned in the stream's vicious current. Resce teams also eventually discovered overnight Thursday that a tenth teen had been killed. Fifteen were pulled from the floods to safety with only minor injuries.
Medics also evacuated a girl and boy, both 18, to hospital in light to moderate condition after suffering from hypothermia. They had also received minor blows to the body in the floods.
Two guides and a medic who accompanied the children on the trip were found unharmed.
Apache helicopters circled the skies while scouring the desert cliffs for any signs of life.
Others managed to climb above the rising water levels, but authorities worked against the clock as they continued the search for the teen whose whereabouts remain unknown.
As the storm picked up again and the sun went down, conditions were too difficult and hazardous to continue trying to locate the missing girl and search efforts were halted.
Security Officer Dov Eilon of the Central Arava Regional Council said the children "were walking down a stream when a giant wave suddenly came and swept them away," adding "there is a whole team that is working to understand how it happened and what their route was."
It is still unclear why the group went on the trip even though the weather forecast indicated high risk of flooding in the area.
The Ministry of Education said that pre-military preparatory programs do not require the Ministry's approval for a trip.
"There may be room for reformation (of this oversight system)," said the Education Ministry.
A group representing the children's parents called for an investigation of the tragedy.
"We will ask to investigate, to find out how the disaster happened, which seems to be a terrible oversight," the group said.
The police confirmed they have already opened an investigation into the incident, starting with interrogating the head of the preparatory program and other bodies involved in the decision to greenlight the trip.
Some southern cities, including Eilat, were also given surprise taste of what Israeli citizens experienced in central and northern region on Wednesday, as golf ball-sized hailstones came crashing down.
The downpour also made its way to the Ramat Negev Regional Council, sweeping across the city of Dimona south of Be’er Sheva.
Streams, mud and other debris gathered on the runway of Eilat Airport, prompting authorities to freeze all departures and landings. Earlier, one of the Eilat-bound flights was diverted due to the the inclement weather.
Route 90 was also shut down in both directions from the HaArava Junction to the entrance to Eilat.
On Wednesday, heavy rain, hail and flash floods assailed Israel, catching many already used to summer weather by surprise and claiming two lives.
Kais Alwashla, a 16-year-old Bedouin resident of the south, was swept away by the Mamshit River and was later found in critical condition. He was evacuated to a hospital via helicopter but was later pronounced dead.
A young woman around the age of 18 from the village of Arab al-Rashayida in the Bethlehem Governorate, central West Bank was also swept away by a flash flood when she apparently went to tend to her sheep near the village.
She was carried off about 8.5 kilometers with her sheep in a stream near Amos, east of Gush Etzion. Palestinian search and rescue teams pulled her body out of the water, pronouncing her dead at the scene.
President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they are closely monitoring the search and rescue efforts being carried out by the security forces in the flood disaster area. The Prime Minister spoke by telephone with GOC Operations Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon and was updated by him on operations in the field.
Rivlin sent his thoughts and prayers to the children's families and urged everyone to follow the instructions of the police and search and rescue forces to both help those swept up by the currents and prevent a recurrence.
Netanyahu commended the security and rescue forces in the field, adding, "We are all praying for better news." Following the announcement that all nine critically injured youths have died, Netanyahu expressed his grief over the disaster, saying it is shared by all of Israel.
"The State of Israel grieves for the promising young lives that were cut off by the great disaster in the Arava," he said in a statement. "We embrace the grieving families who are tormented by their grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured."
Ilana Curiel, Meir Ohayon, Roi Rubinstein, Adir Yanko, Mor Levy and Itay Blumenthal contributed to this report.