TEL AVIV, Israel — More than a foot of snow blanketed Jerusalem Friday night, cutting power to 60,000 homes across Israel on the third day of a regional storm and blocking roads leading to the hilltop city, officials said.
The snow covered Bethlehem, Ramallah and other Palestinian- ruled parts of the West Bank. Heavy rain lashed the Gaza Strip, causing thousands to flee their homes, some using boats to navigate the flooded streets.
At least four people died in the storm, including two men whose vehicle was washed away in southern Israel by flooding, Israel Radio reported. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said it's housing hundreds of families in its Gaza facilities and has distributed 5,000 liters of fuel.
“The situation is disastrous,” said Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for Gaza's emergency services administration. The combination of flooding and power outages are threatening hundreds of thousands in the coastal territory, he added.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon mobilized soldiers and army vehicles to rescue travelers in Jerusalem stranded in their cars because of the snow-blocked roads, according to a statement from his office. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat called on city residents to stay in their homes and opened shelters for thousands without heat. Schools were ordered to shut on Sunday.
“Jerusalem has never seen anything like this,” Ya'alon said on a visit to the regional Home Front Command center. “The situation isn't going to be solved in the next few hours. It will take several days to recover.”
Israel's intercity trains, which ordinarily don't operate on Saturdays because of the Jewish sabbath, made five special runs to help travelers get out of Jerusalem for free, Israel Radio said. By mid-afternoon, power had been restored to more than 30,000 homes that had been cut off, according to the radio.
The National Weather Service forecasts the snow and rain will taper off later Saturday, with partly cloudy skies Sunday in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Emergency crews focused on clearing highways 1 and 443 leading into Jerusalem, and police called on residents who abandoned their cars after being stuck in the snow to collect them.
“Our goal is to start the week with Jerusalem open,” National Police Commander Yochanan Danino told Israel Radio.