At least 44 were crushed to death during a stampede at a bonfire celebrating the Jewish holiday of Lag b’Omer in Israel early on Friday morning, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “terrible disaster.”
More than 150 were injured, with six in critical condition and 18 in serious condition, according to Israeli rescue service Magen David Adom.
The tragedy had one of the highest death toll’s in Israel’s peacetime history.
“I didn’t know what was happening at first. They turned off the loud Klezmer music and then I just kept hearing sirens for about an hour,” one eye witness told Breitbart.
“It happened really quickly. Then streams of stretchers were being loaded up. There was no blood. They choked to death.”
He added that due to the pandemic, it was one of the smaller gatherings that occur every year on Lag b’Omer at Mount Meron. Still, some 100,000 people were estimated to have taken part in the festivities. Another 100,000 were expected to join on Friday for the rest of the one-day holiday.
Initial reports said a stadium stand had fallen while other reports said the roof of a platform had caved in. However, Magen David Adom later said the deaths were caused by a stampede and overcrowding. Paramedics struggled to evacuate trapped people because of overcrowding.
United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollack told The Jerusalem Post that the incident occurred when large crowds of people streamed into the complex, which was barricaded, leading to dozens of people being crushed against fences.
According to Pollack, people had come to Mount Meron excited that they were finally able to celebrate after last year’s festivities were cancelled amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is one of the worst tragedies that I have ever experienced. I have not seen anything like this since I entered into the field of emergency medicine back in 2000,” the report quoted Vice President of the Volunteer Department of United Hatzalah Lazar Hyman as saying.
More than 5,000 police officers were deployed to the area and began evacuating tens of thousands of people. Israel railway began operating trains from its northernmost station in a bid to help clear crowds.
On Friday morning, psychological response centers deployed mental health professionals to administer treatment people suffering from anxiety, including many children who got separated from their parents in the chaos.
“A terrible disaster on Mount Meron,” Netanyahu tweeted in response to the incident. “We are all praying for the recovery of the injured. I ask to strengthen the rescue forces operating in the area.”
“With great anxiety I follow the reports from Meron and pray for the healing of the wounded,” tweeted President Reuven Rivlin.
“An unbearable disaster at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,” said Yamina head Naftali Bennett. “The entire nation of Israel is united in prayer for the victims.”
“I follow with concern and pain and anxiety the terrible disaster that occurred during the celebration at Meron,” said Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid on Facebook. “The whole of Israel is now praying for the healing of the injured. This is a difficult and sad night.”
“The heart grieves for the terrible catastrophe that occurred in Meron last night,” said Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to President Joe Biden, tweeted his condolences, wishing a “full and swift recovery to those injured.”