At least 45 people have been crushed to death at an over-crowded religious festival in Israel, with attendees describing scenes of chaos in which others died in front of their eyes.
More than 100 people were injured in the chaos where tens of thousands thronged to the Galilee tomb of second-century sage Rabbi Shim Bar Yochai for annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.
Witnesses said people were asphyxiated or trampled in a tightly packed passageway around three metres wide on Friday, some going unnoticed until the PA system sounded an appeal to disperse.
Crowds packed the Mount Meron slope in defiance of COVID-19 warnings.
Medics said there had been a stampede in the men’s section of the gender-segregated festival. Casualties included children.
Some of the dead had yet to be identified and family members of those attending the festival who were still missing called in to radio stations asking for assistance in finding them.
Witnesses described the chaotic scene.
“There was some kind of mess, police, screaming, a big mess, and after half an hour it looked like a scene of a suicide bombing attack, numerous people coming out from there on stretchers,” 19-year-old festival-goer Hayim Cohen said.
“We were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff and all of a sudden we saw paramedics from (ambulance service) MDA running by, like mid-CPR on kids,” Shlomo Katz, 36, said. He then saw ambulances come out “one after the other”.