Updated at 6:47 GMT on Friday 30 Apr, 2021
Over 100 people have been injured, many critically, and at least 25 have died in a stampede at a crowded Lag Ba’omer bonfire festival in northern Israel, local media reported, citing emergency services.
“It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster,” one witness told Haaretz.
A spokesman for the Israeli military said there were at least 25 deaths, according to Jewish Press, while Reuters reported 28 confirmed fatalities, citing a rescue service spokesman. Several other reports claimed up to 38 fatalities.
Police sources cited by Haaretz 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 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 exact number injured remains unclear, but 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. Medics said at least 38 people were still at the scene in critical condition, vowing to fight for their lives.
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.”
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