At least 44 individuals have been killed in a crush at a crowded religious festival within the north-east of Israel.
Dozens extra have been injured at the Lag B’Omer celebration, which takes place yearly at the foot of Mount Meron.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to the scene and stated Sunday can be a day of nationwide mourning.
Tens of hundreds of Orthodox Jews attended the all-night festival, making it the most important occasion in Israel because the coronavirus pandemic started.
The nation’s profitable vaccination programme has allowed it to raise many restrictions, however well being officers had nonetheless warned of the danger of Covid-19.
Early stories steered a construction at the location had collapsed, however emergency officers later stated a crush had occurred at round 01:00 native time (22:00 GMT Thursday).
Police sources informed Haaretz newspaper that it began after some attendees slipped on steps, which induced dozens extra to fall.
“It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster,” one witness informed the newspaper.
Videos posted on-line present hundreds of individuals struggling to flee via a slim passageway.
Loudhailer messages urged the crowds to disperse, earlier than police requested the complete evacuation of the location.
“No-one imagined that this could happen here,” one pilgrim informed Channel 12 TV. “Rejoicing became mourning, a great light became a deep darkness.”
Dozens of ambulances attended the scene as emergency providers laid out our bodies underneath foil covers on the bottom. Helicopters took the injured to hospital, whereas the navy stated search-and-rescue troops had additionally been deployed.
At least 150 individuals have been injured, officers stated, together with 38 individuals who have been in important situation at the location.
Children have been additionally caught up within the catastrophe, and witnesses stated paramedics have been seen performing CPR on a few of them.
Earlier within the day, officers stated they weren’t capable of implement coronavirus restrictions owing to the massive crowds.
Police reportedly stated they’d arrested two individuals for disrupting their efforts to maintain order earlier than the crush occurred.
Israel is a nation in shock. This is the worst civilian catastrophe in its fashionable historical past.
Questions are being requested about how an annual celebration changed into such a tragedy.
Police – who have been in control of public safety at the location – are used to even greater numbers turning up and they’re already going through criticism. They have launched their very own investigation.
At Mount Meron, there are nonetheless chaotic scenes and lots of of buses try to move the attendees away.
Meanwhile, many households have struggled to get information of their family members resulting from overburdened telephone providers.
Some our bodies are but to be recognized and funerals are usually not anticipated to happen till after the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown. Leading rabbis have referred to as for prayers to help the bereaved and injured.
‘No place to maneuver’
Witnesses have described the panic because the crush started to unfold.
“It was crowded and there [was]… no place to move,” one attendee informed the BBC. “People started to fall on the ground.”
“All of a sudden we saw paramedics… running by,” one other attendee, Shlomo Katz, stated. “One after the other [they] started coming out… Then we understood that something is going on here.”
“Over 1,000 people together tried to go down a very, very small place, very narrow road and they just fell on top of each other,” stated Yanki Farber, a reporter with the Orthodox Jewish web site Behadrei Haredim.
An emergency employee informed AFP information company that he noticed “dozens of people fall on top of one another” and “a large number of them were crushed and lost consciousness”.
“I have not seen anything like this since I entered into the field of emergency medicine,” Lazar Hyman, a volunteer rescue employee, informed AFP.
Another first responder, Dov Maisel, informed the BBC: “We just finished treating one of Israel’s worst disasters.
“A horrible catastrophe of people that got here to have a good time… and sadly have been actually crushed to loss of life,” he said.
What is the Lag B’Omer festival?
Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews make a pilgrimage to Meron each year for Lag B’Omer, a religious holiday marked with all-night bonfires, prayer and dancing.
The town is the site of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a revered Second-Century sage, who ordained that the anniversary of his death be commemorated with a celebration of his life.
The site is mostly gender-segregated. Images and video suggest the crush happened in one of the men’s sections.
According to the Times of Israel, organisers estimated that 100,000 people arrived on Thursday night.
Attendance was higher than last year, when the festival was held under restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But it was still smaller than in previous years, when hundreds of thousands of people took part.
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