Floods swamp Tel Aviv, turning streets into canals and waterways

TEL AVIV — Torrential rain caused extensive flooding in Tel Aviv and other parts of the Dan region on Tuesday, leaving motorists stranded in cars and swamping several buildings.

More than 50 buildings were flooded, including schools and apartments, causing damage running into millions of dollars but no casualties.

The downpour that dumped more than 3 inches of rain in some places in just four hours also flooded the regional sewage network. Officials opened sluice gates to allow the effluent to flow directly into the sea and thereby prevent it from swamping the streets of Tel Aviv.

Eyewitnesses reported that the floods in the city as well as neighboring Bat Yam and Holon occurred within minutes, turning streets into canals and waterways.

They described the scene as being like a little Venice, with water reaching up to the windshields of some cars unfortunate enough to be caught in the deepest floods. In other places the water reached a height of almost a meter.

The navy was called at one stage to help rescue people trapped in buildings and vehicles, but the work was eventually carried out by municipal workers in some cases using lifeguards' surfboards.

One of the worst-hit places was north Tel Aviv, one of the poshest districts of the country, where several ground-floor homes were flooded with up to 30 centimeters of water.

In the past, the problem areas have been in south Tel Aviv and the Jaffa area. However, the municipality has since invested a great deal of money and effort to improve the drainage system, which prevented flooding on Tuesday.

One resident of north Tel Aviv told Israel Radio that virtually all the furniture in her home and her wall-to-wall carpets had been damaged by the flood water after the drainage system overflowed. The municipality has pledged to help the residents and find them alternative accommodation in hotels until the drainage problems have been resolved and the damage repaired.

Throughout Tel Aviv and neighboring areas there were long traffic delays on Tuesday as a result of the flooding of main roads, including Sderot Rokah and other routes.

Police diverted traffic, but even so some motorists complained that they had been waiting in traffic jams for several hours. The fire and rescue services dealt with dozens of calls from householders and motorists stranded by the floods.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced Tuesday night that he is authorizing a special grant of $200,000 to the Holon Municipality to help families who had to leave their homes because of the flooding. Holon Mayor Motti Sasson said the municipality would allocate a similar sum for this purpose.

Unfortunately, most of Tuesday's heavy rain was confined to the Tel Aviv and Dan regions, and only 0.6 inches fell in the Lake Kinneret catchment area.

The Israel Meteorological Service said there would be brighter and warmer weather over the weekend.

Another cold and wet front, however, is expected to reach the region by the middle of next week, which could interfere with preparations for Election Day on Tuesday.