Saudi men walk along a snow-covered road during a snowstorm in Alkan village, western Saudi Arabia,
JERUSALEM: The heaviest snowfall in decades blocked roads across Israel and the West Bank yesterday, while torrential rains flooded areas of the Gaza Strip.
The heavy snow, which stopped falling last afternoon, prompted Israeli authorities to interrupt the Jewish sabbath to lay on relief trains.
Nationwide, some 30,000 households were without electricity, nearly 9,000 of them in Jerusalem, the Israel Electric Corp said.
Jerusalem city workers managed to clear most roads of drifting snow but appealed to residents to stay at home as fallen trees posed a persistent traffic hazard.
Few had ventured out, apart from observant Jews walking to synagogues.
The two main highways into the city, which climb to around 795 metres above sea level, remained closed in both directions for a third straight day.
Jerusalem-based meteorologist Boaz Nechemia said that between 45 and 60 centimetres of snow had accumulated in the Holy City by yesterday.
“We haven’t had such a snowfall in some 70 years,” he said, noting that a metre of snow fell on Jerusalem in 1920.
With road travel almost impossible, authorities laid on free trains to Tel Aviv and Haifa on the coast, interrupting for the first time ever the shutdown of public transport on the Jewish day of prayer and rest, which runs from sundown on Friday to Saturday night.
The army said it was using armoured vehicles to distribute aid to areas cut off by the bad weather.
Schools in Jerusalem, Safed and other cities would not reopen today, with the Jerusalem municipality explaining that it had to evaluate damage at educational institutions before they did.
Channel 2 television said an initial estimate put the damages at $85m.
A police spokeswoman said four people had died due to weather-related accidents since Thursday night.
Access to West Bank cities such as Ramallah remained blocked by heavy snowfall, with the only source of power in many cases being private generators.
Torrential rains left areas of the Gaza Strip submerged.
The territory’s Hamas rulers said 5,500 people had been rescued and sheltered after their homes were flooded.