Caribbean Fever - Your ONLY destination to all things Caribbean and more
At least 44 Orthodox Jewish worshippers have been killed and many more critically hurt in a stampede at a Lag B'Omer festival at Mount Meron in northern Israel.
Israeli rescue service Magen David Adom said at least 150 people were hurt with six in critical, 18 are seriously hurt, eight in moderate condition, and 80 lightly injured - but numbers varied wildly as medics struggled to access a site packed with 100,000 people, despite parts of it being limited to 10,000.
Preliminary police investigations said the crush was caused by a 'human avalanche' that began when people slipped and fell in an overcrowded stairwell and were unable to get up as the crowd pressed in behind them.
Survivors described standing on top of people who they could feel were suffocating, but were unable to move because of the sheer weight of numbers. Children were also caught up in the carnage, though it is not clear if any were among the dead or wounded.
The Lag B'Omer festival, which celebrates the life of 2nd century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who is buried at Mount Meron, is one of the largest annual gatherings in Israel but was highly restricted last year due to Covid.
This year's event was the largest allowed to go ahead since Israel began lifting lockdowns due to its world-beating vaccine drive, though it appears many more people went to the site than authorities had prepared for.
Even before the stampede, Israeli police were asking people not to attend due to overcrowding and the risk of Covid contagion, with some 148 people treated by medics at the site on Thursday - mostly due to exhaustion.
Police warned it had become impossible to enforce social distancing restrictions due to the size of the crowd, particularly at an indoor grave site where crowd sizes were supposed to be limited to 10,000.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have previously been criticised for attending mass events in Israel despite Covid restrictions, including the funerals of two prominent rabbis who died of the virus back in January
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a 'heavy disaster' and added: 'We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties.'
At least 38 Orthodox Jewish worshippers have been killed and many more were critically hurt in a 'stampede triggered when stand holding hundreds of people collapsed' at the Lag B'Omer bonfire festival
Emergency services arriving at the scene. The Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance service said 103 people had been injured, including dozens fatally, while Channel 12 TV put the number of dead at 38 in the early hours of this morning
Emergency services and ambulances 'are treating dozens of injured', Zaki Heller, spokesperson for Magen David Adom, the Israeli emergency service, earlier said
People pictured tightly packed together in a crowd during the event. Officials later said it appeared that the casualties had been asphyxiated or trampled in a stampede
Jewish worshippers sing and dance as they stand on tribunes at the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron before the incident. Media reports initially said a section of stadium seating had collapsed at the festival
Israeli rescue service Magen David Adom said over 250 ambulances and helicopters had been called to the site to help rescue the wounded, including helicopters of the Israeli Air Force.
The chaos was further compounded when mobile phone services set up at the site crashed, leaving people unable to call for help and separating children from their parents.
Police closed the main entrance to the site in order to control the crowd before evacuating tens of thousands from inside via car parks and other exits. Additional train services were put on to help ferry survivors away from the site.
Witnesses said the stampede began around 1am local time when people crowded into an area that had been restricted by police barriers, meaning people were crushed against them.
That led some to fall down, who were then trampled by the weight of people pressing up against them.
"We were at the entrance, we decided we wanted to get out and then the police blocked the gate, so whoever wanted to get out could not get out,' one witness told Israeli newspaper Maariv.
'In that hurry we fell on each other, I thought I was going to die. I saw people dead next to me.'
The army said its medical teams and 'a number of Israeli Air Force helicopters with medical teams... are assisting in the mass casualty incident in Mount Meron.'
'The forces are assisting in the evacuation of injured and killed civilians and providing medical treatment at the scene,' it added.
'This is one of the worst tragedies that I have ever experienced,' said Lazar Hyman of the United Hatzalah volunteer rescue service, who was at the scene.
'I have not seen anything like this since I entered into the field of emergency medicine,' he added.
Yehuda Gottleib, one of the first responders from United Hatzalah, said he saw 'dozens of people fall on top of one another during the collapse', adding: 'A large number of them were crushed and lost consciousness.'
The MDA posted a video on Twitter, captioning that 'dozens have been killed' and showing a worker saying: 'The Magen David Adom teams have finished providing medical response at the site.
'They are currently evacuating in MDA ambulances and MDA helicopters to the hospitals. In addition they're currently providing secondary transports from the hospitals in the area to level one trauma centres.'
It added in a separate tweet: 'MDA is fighting for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated.
Israeli security officials and rescuers inspect the dead bodies of dozens of people who died during an event in Mount Meron, Israel, on April 29
Emergency workers gather at the scene after dozens of people were killed and others injured in Meron, Israel, where tens of thousands of people were gathered to celebrate the festival of Lag B'Omer
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a 'heavy disaster' and added: 'We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties'
Israeli security officials and rescuers pictured at the scene. It was the first huge religious gathering of its kind to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic
Medics and rescue workers pictured at the Lag B'Omer event, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations at Mount Meron
Dead bodies are inspected by Israeli security officials and rescuers. Around 5,000 police had been deployed to secure the event, with the police urging pilgrims to avoid incidents during the feast when bonfires are lit
'38 are in critical condition and still in the field 6 in critical condition who were evacuated 18 injured severely 2 moderately 39 lightly.'
Videos posted on social media showed chaotic scenes as Ultra-Orthodox men clambered through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush, as police and paramedics tried to reach the wounded.
Bodies lay on stretchers in a corridor, completely covered in foil blankets.
Emergency services and ambulances 'are treating dozens of injured', Zaki Heller, spokesperson for MDA, the Israeli emergency service, earlier said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of people had gathered at the foot of Mount Meron to celebrate Lag B'Omer - a Jewish holiday honoring Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century sage and mystic who is buried there.
Emergency services pictured arriving at the scene. The MDA said teams are 'currently evacuating in MDA ambulances and MDA helicopters to the hospitals'
The dead bodies of dozens of people who died during the event are pictured at Mount Meron in northern Israel following the incident
The scene pictured on April 29. Tens of thousands of Jews took part in the pilgrimage in northern Israel on Thursday, in the country's largest public gathering in the age of Covid-19
The MDA posted a video on Twitter, showing a worker saying: 'The Magen David Adom teams have finished providing medical response at the site'
Authorities had authorised 10,000 people to gather at the site of the tomb but organisers said more than 650 busses had been chartered from across the country, bringing 30,000 pilgrims to Meron.
Police said on Thursday that they had arrested two people for disrupting officers' efforts to keep order at the site
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.
It was the first huge religious gathering of its kind to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has seen cases plummet since launching one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.