Thursday, December 2, 2010

Netanyahu takes command and declares national day of mourning as disastrous fire rages in northern Israel

Mass evacuation on, Haifa under threat: More than 15,000 people were evacuated from their homes by late Thursday as a massive fire continued to rage in northern Israel.

Thursday night, officials in Haifa, Israel's third largest city, ordered the evacuation of several streets in the Denia neighborhood. Mayor Yona Yahav estimated that some 2,500 people will be evacuated from their homes and sent to stay at shelters elsewhere in the city.

Earlier in the evening, some 5,000 residents in the town of Tirat Carmel were ordered to leave home and thousands of others were evacuated from various northern communities. Two prisons and a psychiatric hospital were also evacuated for fear the flames would reach them.

At least 40 Prison Service officer course cadets were killed in the fire earlier Thursday after their bus burned down en route to an evacuation mission in Damon Prison. Several other people were injured in the blaze, including Haifa Police Chief Ahuva Tomer, who was gravely hurt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will declare a national day of mourning to mark a massive northern Israel blaze that claimed at least 40 lives.

The Israeli Giuliani -  Netanyahu looking over the fire scene from helicopter

The PM made the remarks during his visit at the command post set up at University of Haifa,.

"At this hour a terrible fire is ravaging Mt. Carmel; there are many casualties. We are mobilizing all of our forces to deal with this disaster, to rescue the injured and to stop the fire. This is an unprecedented disaster.

I spoke a few minutes ago with Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. His Ministry and the Israel Police are dealing with the matter responsibly and I have asked them to make every effort. I also spoke with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has offered the assistance of the IDF. I also spoke with Fire and Rescue Service Commissioner Shimon Romach and instructed him to request all necessary assistance in stopping the fire.

We have known difficult moments and, naturally, we will need to learn very many lessons in order to deal with disasters of this kind but right now all of our efforts are directed to saving lives and also watching over the lives of the forces dealing with the disaster. I think that they are acting in an exemplary fashion, as President Shimon Peres has said, with courage, dedication and responsibility."

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias. It was agreed Cyprus would soon dispatch its sole firefighting helicopter to Mt. Carmel in order to assist in the efforts to stop the fire.

Prime Minister Netanyahu also spoke with his friend, Greek Prime Minister George A. Papandreou. It was agreed that Greece would dispatch several of its firefighting helicopters to Israel.