Black rivers of crude oil could be seen flowing across the desert sands in the eastern part of Israel Thursday morning and people on both sides of the border with neighboring Jordan were rushed to hospitals after inhaling toxic fumes from the massive spill that occurred after a major pipeline ruptured, possibly by a maintenace crew.
Some outlets are reporting this as potentially "the worst" environmental disaster in the nation's history as millions of gallons have gushed from the broken pipeline directly into one of the nation's prized nature reserves.
“Crude oil flowed throughout the reserve, causing serious damage ... to flora and fauna,” Guy Samet, a spokesperson for Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry, told local news outlets on Thursday. Samet estimated the amount of oil to be in the "millions of litres," though complete and accurate estimates have not been verified by independent sources.
“Rehabilitation will take months, if not years," Samet continued. "This is one of the State of Israel’s gravest pollution events. We are still having trouble gauging the full extent of the contamination.”
Millions of liters of crude oil gushed out of a breached pipeline in southern Israel early Thursday, causing heavy damage to one of the area's important nature reserves.
Firefighters, police, Environmental Protection Ministry officials and oil pipeline maintenance teams were dispatched to the site of the spill, and managed to curtail the flow after about two hours.
The breach occurred during work on the pipeline that was part of preparations for the planned international airport under construction in Timna, in southern Israel. Once the leak was located, pipeline company officials shut the valves – but not in time to prevent the spillage of millions of liters of oil.
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The pipeline, which links Eilat to the port city of Ashkelon, opened in the 1960s to facilitate the movement of Iranian oil from the Persian Gulf to European markets but since the rupture in Israeli-Iranian relations in 1979 has mostly been used to move oil and oil products from Eilat to different parts of Israel.
The Times of Israel adds:
The leak, near the village of Be’er Ora, was caused due to damage to the Trans-Israel pipeline, a major oil conduit between the Mediterranean and Red seas that runs from Eilat to Ashkelon.
In Jordan more than 80 people were hospitalized, including 30 workers at Aqaba’s King Hussein International Airport. The city’s residents were ordered to remain indoors, Jordanian media reported.
On the Israeli side, at least three people were treated by paramedics after they inhaled poisonous gases.
A preliminary investigation indicated that the spill was caused after the pipeline was struck accidentally during maintenance work.