Unknown source of energy' cooks Tel Aviv sidewalk, residents evacuated

Tel Aviv municipality has not determined source of the problem that led to two buildings being evacuated, but investigation of the mystery continues


The Tel Aviv municipality on Saturday informed dozens of residents of two apartment buildings in the center of the city that they may return to their homes, days after they were evacuated when the ground suddenly began heating up and emitted steam.

Experts who were called in did not detect any dangerous substances at the site or any risk to the buildings' stability, and the source of the heat was said by the municipality to be "trapped energy" from an unknown source.

The city said it would "continue to monitor the temperature of the ground, which is expected to take a long time to cool, and will continue to look into the causes of the unusual event."

An official involved in investigating the incident told Haaretz an electrical problem over a period of several days had been the source of the heat, but the Israel Electric Corporation said it could find no connection between the heat and the power grid in the area.


The site of the investigation near Ibn Gabirol Street in Tel Avlv, Jan. 2, 2021.

The Geological Survey of Israel, a government agency, confirmed the temperature increase after testing ground and water temperature levels, but said it had so far found no explanation for it.

On Thursday, residents of an apartment building on the northern end of Ibn Gabirol Street noticed steam coming out of the ground. Tests showed that the steam, which was as hot as 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit), was water-based. Residents, as well as kindergartens in the area, were evacuated.

Despite the efforts of municipal officials, the fire department, the Israel Electric Corporation and the Environmental Protection Ministry, the source of the heat has not yet been determined. The municipality filled in holes dug at the scene and fenced off the area until more extensive testing is completed, which is to include thermal imaging.

About two weeks ago, a resident contacted Modi Feldberg, the head of the apartment owners' committee in one of the buildings, to report that a concrete surface outside their building was heating up. "I took off my sandal and stepped on the concrete. I almost got burned," Feldberg recounted. He said he looked around and noticed steam coming out of the adjacent buildings.

"I was afraid there was a power line in the area, and I asked a laborer to dig into the ground with a shovel. All of a sudden, steam came out. I imagined that it was probably a geyser. It appeared to me to be a geological incident - also because there haven't been any problems with the electricity in the building."


Feldberg felt he had no choice but to coordinate the response. "I called 106 [the municipal call center], but they said they don't go onto private yards. So I called the police.

"The police immediately dispatched rescue personnel and set up a command center there. "It was a mess. There was no one in charge. They simply grabbed the residents out of the apartments," Feldman claimed.

Some residents were also critical of Mayor Ron Huldai for not coming to the scene. On Saturday, Deputy Mayor Zippi Brand Frank arrived and attempted to provide assistance to the residents.

Natan Drori, who lives in one of the buildings that was evacuated, said the residents don't intend to return until they receive a detailed report about the source of the problem.

"They evacuated us because they were worried about our safety, and now they're calling on us to return without providing any kind of convincing explanation. How can you be so sure there's no danger to the residents?" he remarked.


Twitter's translation:
News from Gavirol's father-in-law: The works and measurements continue. The steam probably stopped and the ground also cooled down a bit (put the bell on the video, in this measurement place 39.3 degrees). Some opinions I heard about the cause from factors that worked in the field: an old electricity infrastructure deep in the ground (the electricity company was denied) or organic matter that in contact with groundwater warmed up.

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