Ten teenagers on an organized trip died after flash floods swept across Israel and the West Bank, according to Israeli emergency response services.
The Israeli teenagers were on a group hike in the Tzafit Valley near the southern Dead Sea when severe storms hit the area Thursday, causing flash floods. The youths were students at the Bnei Zion pre-military academy in central Israel.
Nine girls and one boy were among the dead, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service. The last missing teen was found Friday.
Two staff members from the academy are under arrest on suspicion of negligent homicide as part of an investigation into the deaths, police said, while a third remains under house arrest.
More than a dozen other members of the group were rescued as the Israeli military and emergency responders launched massive efforts to find them in southern Israel.
“I am sending all my strength to the security and rescue forces that are currently working to save lives and locate those missing in the severe disaster that occurred today in the Tzafit Valley,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday on Twitter.
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was set to speak to the students over the weekend, said, “An entire nation is crying today. An unimaginable and unbearable disaster. Today, I hug the families and the other heartbroken cadets.”
In the West Bank, Palestinian police and emergency services launched rescue efforts. Fifteen people were rescued in the village of Ubeidiya east of Bethlehem, Palestinian police spokesman Loai Zreqat said.
Two other teenagers died in separate flash flooding incidents Wednesday when storms pounded the area, even bringing hail. A Bedouin teenager in southern Israel was swept into a stream in the Negev desert. He was pronounced dead after his body was found, according to emergency responders. In the southern West Bank, a young Palestinian girl died when she was swept away by flooding near Hebron, police said.
The weather caused accidents, road closures and traffic jams across the region, with low-lying roads submerged under a few feet of water.
In southern Israel, rescue teams searched for a missing truck driver who had been involved in an accident and was caught in a flash flood, police said. When emergency responders reached the overturned truck, the driver was not inside.
The flash floods came with such force that they broke through Israel’s separation barrier – a 10-foot wall of solid concrete – in two places.
Pictures from Anata, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, showed what appeared to be about 10 concrete slabs that had been washed away. The water broke through in the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem as well.
Such severe storms is surprising in late April when the region usually is prepping for the beginning of an arid summer. Powerful thunderstorms are not unheard of at this time, but they haven’t occurred in a number of years.
Raging waters filled streets and flooded stores and homes in videos and photos posted on social media, while videos from the desert showed the parched landscape suddenly inundated with torrential waters.