“It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster.”
Over 150 people have been injured, some critically, and at least 44 have died in a stampede at the crowded Lag B’Omer bonfire festival in northern Israel, local media reported, citing emergency services.
Emergency response teams said six of the injured are in critical condition and 18 are in serious condition after the incident at Mount Meron.
“It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster,” one witness told Haaretz
Police sources cited by the newspaper said the stampede was triggered after attendees slipped on a staircase, causing dozens of others to fall.
Tens of thousands of Hassidic Jews had gathered at Mount Meron for the annual festivities at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the largest event in Israel since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. On Thursday night, organizers estimated some 100,000 people were in attendance, expecting another 100,000 to arrive by Friday morning.
Footage from the festival has circulated online, showing a massive crowd of revelers dancing to live music prior to the stampede.
Israeli health officials had urged residents not to travel to Mount Meron, citing fears the gathering could contribute to the spread of Covid-19. Some 5,000 police officers were deployed to monitor the event.
The crowding has reportedly created obstacles for rescue crews, which used helicopters to evacuate the wounded. The Israeli Defense Forces also said it deployed a unit and multiple aircraft to the scene.
While the IDF and a number of early reports suggested the stampede was caused after a roof or stage collapsed, Israel’s emergency service later clarified that the deaths and injuries were the result of overcrowding alone.
The emergency agency released footage from the scene, showing the rescue effort in progress, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a “terrible disaster.”