Flash floods claim 11 lives in Israel during Sukkot

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JERUSALEM — At least 11 people were killed, dozens were injured and at least four children were missing in flash floods or accidents caused by sudden rainstorms over Shabbat, officials said Saturday.

The storms, considered the worst to hit some areas in 25 years, struck during the Sukkot holiday, when many Israelis were camping and hiking in nature reserves.

A 43-year-old man, Waif Abu Aida, was killed while driving a pickup truck that was washed off a road in the Nevatim area.

Six other people died Saturday when a van skidded on slick pavement, swerving into the opposite lane and plowing into a large truck near Gush Etzion, police said. Five were believed to be Romanian workers.

Another four people died in the Dead Sea area. Three were killed when their car went off the road after the side of a highway collapsed in the rain. The car overturned and was swept away in a flooded stream, officials said.

Because of the high winds, a 24-year-old woman fell about 30 yards off a cliff in a wadi in Qumran on Friday evening. Her body was found the next morning.

The rest of her group survived, some by clinging to the face of a cliff, while others found refuge in caves before being rescued.

Israel Air Force helicopters had difficulty landing in the area Friday night because of the storm, but they managed to drop blankets and water to the stranded hikers so they could wait out the night.

Dozens of other stranded hikers also were rescued from raging floods by the Israeli Defense Force.

Territories police chief, Cmdr. Yossi Sadvon, opened an investigation into why the Mezukei Dargot field school permitted the hike to go ahead in Qumran despite warnings that there could be flooding in the wadi.

Troops, police and volunteers started fanning out in the Dead Sea area Friday evening when the mountain runoff started plummeting down the wadis. IDF rescue vehicles also brought in fresh water to Kibbutz Kalya after it lost its water supply because of the storms.

In Jerusalem, divers and a helicopter helped search for an 8-year-old Palestinian boy who fell into a sewage canal while playing with a friend in the Wadi Joz area.

Three Bedouin girls were missing in a hilly area north of Beersheva, rescue officials said.

Storms also flooded dozens of homes and destroyed large tracts of cropland in Jericho, where 12 people were injured.

An IAF helicopter rescued a woman and her eight children in the village of Yatir south of Hebron.

The army said that rough weather forced the closure of the Allenby Bridge crossing to Jordan, after terminal buildings were damaged and the power supply was cut off.

In Sinai, thousands of holiday travelers trying to return home from Egypt were turned away at the Taba border crossing, closed by flooding in an adjacent streambed, Israel Radio said. The crossing was reopened Saturday night.

The airport in Eilat was closed much of the day because of flooded runways. Travelers were bused to an IAF base for their scheduled flights.

Gush Katif settlers said the storms caused them millions of shekels worth of damage, including hothouses that were smashed to pieces by a hail-storm. MK Zvi Hendel of the National Religious Party said the hailstones were the size of tennis balls.

A rare hailstorm in Beersheva damaged homes and cars and piled up drifts of hailstones to a height of about 10 inches. Thirty-two people were injured by flying asbestos rooftops or ice particles that crashed into their eyes. Twenty-eight were treated at Soroka Hospital.

Rains also washed away 36 Bedouin shacks in the Beersheva area, Itim reported.

Trees and electric poles were knocked down, blocking many roads and cutting electricity to the area for about three hours. Portions of roads were swept away, and solar panels went flying off of rooftops.

Sukkot were ripped apart in many parts of the country, their fabric or wooden walls torn apart by winds.

In Jerusalem, nearly an inch of rain fell Saturday afternoon, and firefighters helped bail people out of 10 flooded apartments.

Thousands of tourists were forced to turn back from the Galilee area.

"I don't remember such a winter during Sukkot for many years," Rabbi Rafael Cohen of Safed said.

"Rain on Sukkot isn't a good omen," said the chief.