The return of heavy rains in the Arava desert has forced search and rescue teams to suspend efforts to find the last missing student in the flash-flood that killed nine people on Thursday.
The stormy conditions, which pose a danger to the rescue workers themselves, are preventing operations from continuing. However, Eli Cohen, a spokesman for the rescue team, said that personnel will remain on the scene and renew operations as soon as weather conditions improve, probably by first light on Friday morning.
Earlier in the evening, police said they were gearing up for a search and rescue operation that could stretch into the night for the last missing student caught in flash-floods in Nahal Tzafit in southern Israel on Thursday.
“We are doing all we can to find those still missing. Some have been rescued and some are still out there. We will keep going until we find them all,” police spokesperson Meirav Lapidot told reporters at the scene.
“We are preparing for a long night of search and rescue operations,” she said.
The diving unit of the Fire Brigade was reported on the scene. Magen David Adom CEO Eli Bin told radio station 103FM that the rescue teams are “racing against the clock to save lives.”
Eight girls and one boy from a premilitary academy in Tel Aviv were found dead in the floodwaters, and several others who had gone missing were rescued earlier in the day of the tragic incident. Their names have yet to be released to the public pending notification of their families.
“We were unable to escape the current and were swept away by the river,” one of the rescued youths said on Channel 10 news.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was closely monitoring the search and rescue efforts. He spoke by telephone with GOC Operations Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, and was updated by him on operations in the field, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I commend the security and rescue forces that are now working to save lives and locate the missing in the terrible disaster that took place today in Nahal Tzafit. We are all praying for better news,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The Education Ministry released a statement saying that it had not been informed of a trip to the south, despite a forecast of more stormy weather and the danger of flooding in low-lying areas.
“The trip was not reported to us, our situation room was not told in advance and we did not give any permission for such a trip,” the ministry said.
At least one of the students had expressed serious concerns about the safety of the trip before disaster struck.
On Wednesday, she told a friend that she was very afraid to join a hike in an area known for its treacherous weather conditions.
In a text message published by Hadashot, she wrote: “It makes no sense to go to a place where everything is floods. We’ll die! I’m serious.”
Her friend tried to reassure her, saying that she was sure they would be going to somewhere else that was safe, saying not to exaggerate.