'Dozens of dead' in Israel pilgrimage accident: rescue services

Daniel Fowler
April 30, 2021

The crush occurred as tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews thronged to the Galilee tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shim Bar Yochai for annual Lag B'Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.

Medics confirmed that dozens of people had been hurt at the Lag B'Omer event in northern Mount Meron.

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It had been "a tragic night", Shimon Lavi, northern Israel's police commander, told AFP, adding his officers did all they could to save lives, helping to ferry the injured to hospital.

Rescue workers had initially said that chaos erupted when a section of stadium seating collapsed but later revised that account to say the casualties had been caused by a stampede.

"Close to 40 people died as a result of this tragedy", he told the station.

A massive stampede at a densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site killed dozens of people in northern Israel on Friday, leaving emergency workers scrambling to clear the area and evacuate the critically injured. Army Radio, citing anonymous medical officials, said the death toll had risen to 44.

The rescue service said it was treating 150 injured, six of them in serious condition.

The stampede occurred during the celebrations of Lag BaOmer at Mount Meron, the first mass religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted almost all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens killed and many more critically injured in Israeli bonfire festival disaster

Health authorities had nevertheless warned against holding such a large gathering.

Phone service at the scene crashed as thousands attempted to contact family members and emergency services.

Israeli media reported that up to 38 people were killed, but the rescue service did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.

Israeli media have published an image of a row of bodies covered in plastic bags on the ground. "It was a disaster", another witness told the newspaper.

Last year's celebration was restricted, but Israel's successful vaccination programme - one of the fastest in the world - has allowed it to lift many restrictions in recent months.

He said a first row of people fell down and then a second row, where he was standing, also began to fall down from the pressure of the stampede.

United Hatzalah emergency medical service said that dozens of resuscitations were carried out at the site by the organization's volunteers.

Around 5,000 police were deployed to secure the event, with the police urging pilgrims to avoid incidents during the feast when bonfires are lit.

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