EVRONA NATURE RESERVE, Israel, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- An oil spill in southern Israel released over 600,000 gallons of oil onto the Evrona Nature Reserve and surrounding areas on Thursday.
Guy Samet, an official from Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry, called it "one of the gravest pollution events in the country's history" in an interview with Israel's Channel 10. He said the oil flowed in a river over four miles long.
The large reserve hosts deer populations and rare plant life.
"We're talking about thousands of gallons of crude oil, which will endanger local wildlife and the surrounding nature reserve," Samet said. He believes it could take years to clean up the spill.
More than 80 people in the area have been hospitalized from inhaling toxic fumes. The spill is near the town of Eliat, which has a population of roughly 50,000 people.
The 153-mile Trans-Israel pipeline that released the oil was under maintenance, and investigators claim it was accidentally struck. It was shut off once the leak was discovered. Israel Radio reported the Environmental Protection Ministry demanded the company send additional workers to assist with cleanup.
The country is preparing to build an international airport in the nearby town of Timna.