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Garbage men search for a mattress that reportedly contains one million dollars in the landfill of Efeh. An Israeli woman mistakenly threw out a mattress she said had almost $1 million inside, setting off a frantic search through tons of garbage at a number of landfill sites on Wednesday. ((Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press))

A trashed mattress believed to have $1 million stashed inside has sparked a search through landfills in southern Israel.

A Tel Aviv woman in her 40s, identified only as Anat, reportedly bought her elderly mother a new mattress as a surprise present and took the old one to the curb on Monday.

According to media reports, her mother realized the bedding switch the following morning and only then revealed to her daughter that she had been stashing her life savings inside the old mattress.

The money — allegedly made up of U.S. dollars and Israeli shekels — amounted to about $1 million US, according to media reports.

The mother woke up screaming when she realized what happened, the daughter told The Associated Press.

The woman has declined to comment on how her mother acquired such a large sum. She said the money was hidden in the mattress because the woman had had unspecified "traumatic experiences with banks."

She said she went looking for the mattress but it had already been picked up by garbage collectors. She has since searched three landfills across southern Israel but has not been able to spot it.

Local dump manager Yitzhak Borba told Army Radio his staff has been helping the woman, who seems "totally desperate."

The Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot published a picture of the woman on Wednesday digging through a huge pile of trash.

The mattress will be hard to find even in the local dump, which has thousands of tonnes of garbage arriving each day, Borba said.

He added he has increased security at the site to keep out would-be treasure hunters.

The woman said she is trying to remain hopeful that she will recover the money but fears someone may have already found it.

But she said she is trying to keep the loss in perspective. "People have to take everything in proportion," she said, "and thank God for the good and the bad."

With files from The Associated Press