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May 4, 2018  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

10 teens die in flash flood; 2 arrested after warnings ignored

9 of the 10 Israeli teens who were killed in the tragedy. 
Photos from Facebook 9 of the 10 Israeli teens who were killed in the tragedy. Photos from Facebook (JNS) – The mood throughout Israel was somber following the deaths of 10 teens in a flash flood near the Dead Sea on April 26.

The students – 9 girls and 1 boy – died during a hike. They were part of a group of 25 young people who been accepted to the Bnei Tzion pre-military academy in Tel Aviv and were participating in a bonding experience prior to the beginning of the program in September.

Survivors told rescue teams that a massive wave of water as high as 13 feet tall smashed into part of the group as it walked through a dried riverbed, washing 10 of the 25 students away. The 15 who managed to avert the wave or climb out of the water were saved by rescue teams and treated for light injuries and hypothermia.

All the victims were 17 or 18 years old. The lone boy who died aspired to be a teacher; one of the girls was a graduating dance student in Jerusalem’s High School for the Arts, while another had tutored sick kids in Africa. The teens were described as sociable, optimistic, smiling, brilliant and charming.

The students were hiking in the Judean Desert along the Nahal Tzafit riverbed trail that empties into the Dead Sea when gushing water poured through.

Israel’s Ministry of Education claims that it was not made aware of the trip, as per protocol. Nationwide, warnings had been made over the past several days for individuals to avoid flood-prone areas.

In Israel, rivers fill up with water during the winter rain season, which typically ends around the Passover holiday. The river had been dry for several weeks before unseasonable torrential downpours struck the country on April 25 and 26. When dry, riverbeds are popular hiking destinations. Yet during heavy rains, the water in the rivers can rise quickly, leading to flash floods. Hikers are warned to steer clear of river beds during inclement weather, when the riverbeds can be notoriously dangerous.

The riverbed was completely dry when the students started their hike. One of the survivors of the flood said that shortly after the water suddenly appeared, the rapids quickly swelled to a height of 3 to 4 meters (more than 10 feet). The hikers were caught in a steep area of the riverbed when the waters struck, with survivors holding on for their lives to trees or scrambling onto large rocks above the water’s reach.

The principal of the Bnei Zion pre-military academy resigned a week after the tragedy. He and an instructor leading the hike were arrested on suspicion of negligent homicide for ignoring the flash flood warnings. They were released on a five-day house arrest.

Police said both suspects knew about the weather warnings ahead of the trip, but never- theless decided to proceed with the hike, despite even some students voicing their concerns of the potential for fatal consequences.

“I cannot believe I’m going on a trip in such weather,” one of the 10 students who died said in a WhatsApp group chat to friends before the hike, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported. “It doesn’t make sense for us to go to a place where everything is flooding. It’s tempting fate – we’re going to die, I’m serious.”

However, in a WhatsApp message ahead of the trip, the pre-military academy downplayed the threat, merely suggesting that students bring “a rain coat,” “a rain cover for your bags” and “a change of dry clothes in case you need [it].”

“Don’t worry,” the message said. “We are well-prepared for the hike and the academy has checked with the relevant authorities. It will be fun and wet and an experience!”

Information from the JTA news service was used in compiling this report.

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