Many people have been crushed to death during a stampede at a religious festival in northeast Israel on Friday, rescue services said it as “one of [Israel’s] worst disasters in recent history”.
About 45 people were killed during the event while more than 150 sustained injuries, according to medical officials. Army Radio reported that children were among the dead.
Footage taken just moments before the deadly incident at the base of Israel’s Mount Meron showed heaving crowds of ultra-Orthodox worshippers crushed in a narrow, tunnel-like passage as they exited the site.
Witnesses said people began falling on top of each other near the end of the walkway, as they descended slippery metal stairs. In one video, officers can be seen ripping down corrugated barricades that stopped participants from exiting the scene quickly in front of what appears to be a heap of people.
“Masses of people were pushed into the same corner and a vortex was created,” a man identified only by his first name Dvir told Israel’s Army Radio. He described a terrifying sight as the first row of people fell down and that he was in the next row of people who tripped. “I felt like I was about to die,” he said.
Eli Bin, Magen David Adom’s (MDA) director-general, called it “one of the most difficult civil disasters the state of Israel has ever known”.
Uriel Goldberg, international relations coordinator and paramedic for MDA, said that he has not known of a worse stampede in Israeli history.
“It’s definitely one of the worst disasters in recent times,” he told The Independent. In the chaos, paramedics told Channel 12 there were more than 30 children who had been separated from their parents and were being tended to by emergency workers.
Calling it a “heavy disaster”, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Twitter to say: “We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties.”
MDA officials said that they received the first distress calls just before 1am near the “Toldot Aharon” celebration, near the Rashbi tomb in Mount Meron, as tens of thousands of people gathered there to celebrate the Lag Ba’Omer holiday.