JERUSALEM – With memories still fresh of the Holy Land’s worst storm in 50 years last winter, Israelis and Palestinians stocked up on supplies for a forecast heavy snowfall on Tuesday.
The approaching storm, due to peak on Wednesday, was expected to be lighter than in December 2013, when snow fell for three days, paralyzing the region and causing power outages that left tens of thousands cut off from electricity and heat.
Israeli television weatherman Danny Rupp predicted 12 to 24 hours of snowfall in Jerusalem. Barry Lynn, a meteorologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the storm would likely dump between 25 cm and 60 cm (10 inches and 24 inches) of snow in the city.
Snowploughs and power crews were on alert in Jerusalem, northern Israel and in the Palestinian Territories.
As the skies darkened on Tuesday, Israelis and Palestinians scurried for food supplies and gas or paraffin heaters.
“We ran out quickly,” said one salesman in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, “There’s not a heater to be found anywhere in the area.”
Heavy rains and near-freezing temperatures in the approaching storm threatened to deepen the misery in the Gaza Strip, where streets are still strewn with wreckage from a 50-day war with Israel last summer, thousands live in U.N. shelters and damaged homes and the power is on only six hours a day.
“No electricity, no drinkable water, no reconstruction, and now a storm. Our people need the help of the entire world,” said Samir Ali, 47, a Gaza City taxi driver.
Inside a packed supermarket, Jerusalem resident Alon Issashar, 29, said he had hoped to beat the crowds by shopping early.
“As you can see Armageddon is coming,” he joked. “People are going crazy. I guess people outside of Israel will laugh but we are used to sun.”
In the Palestinian city of Ramallah, shoppers cleared bread, water and diapers off supermarket shelves.
In Jerusalem, Mayor Nir Barkat said roads to the city were likely to be closed at the sight of the first snowflakes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Barkat, police commanders and emergency services officials at a meeting in Jerusalem to prepare for the storm.
“I ask all Israeli citizens to simply watch out for their neighbors’ welfare and help them,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Last winter, hundreds of motorists trying to reach Jerusalem were trapped in their vehicles for hours before being rescued by troops in armored personnel carriers.
“Last year’s lessons have been learnt to their fullest,” Barkat told Army Radio.
In neighboring Lebanon, a storm halted air traffic at Beirut international airport as of 1700 GMT, an airport source said.
Strong winds lashed the Beirut coastline late on Tuesday. In other coastal parts of Lebanon, people posted pictures and videos on social media of whirlwinds and flooding. Some parts of the capital suffered power cuts.
The education ministry has ordered schools closed on Wednesday, state news agency NNA said.