The fierce rainfall has shuttered schools and government offices in some areas and submerged cars and low-lying buildings. Some Israelis were forced from their homes, and others were asked not to leave them, even as they were bracing for potential spinoff attacks from spiking violence between the United States and Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday beseeched citizens to take flood warnings as seriously as they do the sirens warning of imminent rocket fire that are a feature of life in many Israeli communities.
“I ask that you follow the instructions from the police and emergency agencies,” Netanyahu said after touring an emergency response center in the town of Beit Dagan. “If you hear them, it is exactly like a missile attack. You know that if you follow the instructions, in most cases . . . you will not be in danger.”
Netanyahu also warned the adventurous not to venture out to the desert to witness the dramatic — and potentially dangerous — spectacle of dry stream beds reanimated with roaring water. “Watch them on television,” he advised.
In Haifa, a port city and petroleum center that had been singled out for threats by Iranian militants amid the regional tensions, the flooding was a far more consuming threat than war, said Efraim Aharon, a retired computer business owner who lives in the city’s center.
“It’s all anyone is talking about,” he said by phone. “The threats we are used to.”
Officials said rescue resources had been redeployed nationwide in response to the flooding, which stretched from the coastal plains along the Mediterranean to the occupied West Bank down to the Dead Sea.
Israeli media was filled with images of roadways turned to muddy rivers and rescuers wading through waist-deep water with adults on their backs. Rescuers cut though a floor to reach a dog that had become trapped in the southern city of Ashdod, according to reports.
In the coastal city of Nahariya, residents mourned 38-year-old Moti Ben Shabbat, who disappeared into the rushing flow as he tried to pull a woman and child from their trapped vehicle. His body was recovered downstream several hours later, and his sacrifice was hailed across the country.
“From time to time, we find heroes glowing in the sky,” President Reuven Rivlin said Thursday after sending a letter of condolence to the Ben Shabbat family. “The act he did to save others was extraordinary courage, real heroism paid for with his life.”
The country was even more riveted, and outraged, by the deaths of Dean Yaakov Shoshani and Stav Harari during the first of the flooding over the weekend. The pair had entered an elevator in their Tel Aviv apartment building during the deluge, only to have it become stuck at a lower parking level, possibly because of a power outage. As water rose in the garage, passersby who eventually heard the pair banging on the elevator and calling for help phoned fire and rescue services. The pair were eventually pulled from the flooded shaft with help from divers, according to the Haaretz newspaper. One was pronounced dead at the scene and the other after being transported to a hospital.
Officials, including the prime minister, have pledged to investigate the incident after complaints about the response time of rescuers and the drainage capacity of the building and neighborhood.
“I do not think that there is anyone who can remain indifferent to these tragic deaths,” Netanyahu said Thursday, promising to release the results of an inquiry. “The matter is currently being investigated and checked.”