Lag B'Omer religious festival, at the foot of Mount Meron, has become what is being referred to internationally as the Israel crush.
44 Killed, Dozens More Injured in Israel Crush
The Lag B'Omer festival, which takes place every year at the foot of Mount Meron, was the scene of a major catastrophe, reported The BBC. What exactly happened is yet to be discovered as officials are still investigating the incident.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed heartbreak at the large-scale disaster and declared the day a day of mourning. He also vowed to investigate the incident and "would ensure this kind of disaster never happens again."
This festival attracted tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews, making it Israel's largest activity since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The gathering was partly due to the success of Israel's COVID vaccine drive that has essentially allowed the easing of limits on those who have been inoculated. However, officials say that precautions were still taken as COVID-19 is still a threat.
At first, it appeared that a structure had fallen at the site, but emergency officials later claimed that a crush had happened at around 01:00 local time in Israel. A witness told a paper what happened at that moment. Saying in seconds, all the people there fell and trampled each other in panic. Panicked witnesses said it was a very tight squeeze, with little to no room to move.
Videos that captured the horrifying moment show that many were panicking and trying to escape the terror via a single passage as the accident progressed,Panorama reports.
At first, people thought a structure had fallen, but other witness accounts stated that the chaos stemmed from onlookers slipping on steps and knocking over the people below them. Neither claim has been verified.
When loudhailer warnings instructed the crowds to evacuate, one pilgrim misinterpreted it for an explosive alert which is sure to have spurred even more panic.
"No-one imagined that this could happen here," one pilgrim told Channel 12 TV. "Rejoicing became mourning, a great light became a deep darkness."
Dozens of ambulances were on the scene, and emergency personnel could be seen lying bodies on the ground beneath foil covers. Helicopters carried the injured to hospitals, and search-and-rescue forces were deployed, according to the military. Officials said at least 103 people were injured, 38 of them in serious condition.
Tragedy in Meron: MDA is fighting for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated.— Magen David Adom (@Mdais) April 30, 2021
38 are in critical condition and still in the field
6 in critical condition who were evacuated
18 injured severely
39 lightly pic.twitter.com/xUWStFYqQh
The national emergency service, Magen David Adom (MDA), said that they are struggling to get the victims out of the disaster area and waste no attempt to get all those injured to safety.
Officials said they could not keep COVID-19 protocols in place early in the evening due to the sizeable crowds. Authorities also said they had arrested two people for intervening with their efforts to maintain control.
One said that the crowd was so tight and everyone was squished in place, told to the BBC. Then everyone fell, and trying to get up was impossible.
Another attendee, Shlomo Katz, said, "Instead [they] began coming out one by one... That's when we knew something was different."
Reporter Yanki Farber from the Orthodox Jewish website Behadrei Haredim was quoted to say,
"Over 1,000 people were trying to go down a very, very small, very narrow road at the same time, and they just stacked on top of each other."
One more emergency worker, Dov Maisel, said that they just finished on the worst mishaps in Israel. The Israel crush ended in tragedy and death, not celebration.