A three-day storm of near-hurricane strength caused extensive damage to Israeli archaeological sites, including the 2,000-year-old Caesarea Crusader fortress, an Israel Antiquities Authority official said Wednesday.
"It looks like an army of bulldozers went along the coast and destroyed everything in their wake, washing everything into the sea," said Yaakov Sharvit, head of the antiquities marine branch. Repairs are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
The storm, which saw wind speeds up to 62 m.p.h., came days after firefighters had put out a blaze in northern Israel that destroyed about 12,500 acres of forest. The Finance Ministry said the preliminary estimate of the fire damage was $27.9 million to $33.4 million.
"The trees can grow back," Sharvit said. "But once an archaeological site is destroyed, you can't replant it."
The storm's worst damage was in Caesarea, where a jetty built to protect antiquities was smashed by waves and broken into three pieces, leaving parts of the ancient city vulnerable to future storms, he said. "This is a huge disaster," he said, adding that about 130 feet of wall dating back two centuries was damaged - including ancient watch towers and an aqueduct.
In Ashkelon, collecting pools and a city wall from Crusader times collapsed. About 32 feet of cliff gave way, and with it artifacts not yet uncovered. Exposed in the storm was a "beautiful white statue 31/2 feet high of a woman standing next to a pillar," Sharvit said. The head and hands were missing, he said.
Farther north, in Ashdod, the storm also damaged antiquities. Ancient structures appeared that may have been the stores of the ancient Ashdod port, but it will now be hard to determine, Sharvit said.
"Once the finds fall out of their archaeological strata," he said, "they are out of context and all the information is missing."