The death toll in the onslaught at a religious festival in Israel has risen to at least 44 on Friday with about 150 injured – as scary videos posted online show thousands of people struggling to run for their lives through a narrow passage.
The disaster unfolded as the huge crowd streamed through the tunnel-like passage during the annual Lag Ba’omer festivities at the foot of Mount Meron, according to witnesses and video footage.
People began falling on top of each other near the end of the walkway as they fell down slippery metal stairs, witnesses said.
The footage shows a large number of people, most of them black-clad ultra-Orthodox men, squeezed into the tunnel. Witnesses told Haaretz that police barricades prevented people from getting out quickly.
Avraham Leibe told the Israeli public television channel Kan that a fall in love with people trying to get down the mountain caused “general bedlam”
“No one managed to stop,” he said from his hospital bed. “I saw one after another fall.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Friday morning that he was “devastated by the tragedy.”
“The loss of life as thousands celebrated a happy holiday is devastating. “New York sends its thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims and to the people of Israel and the Jewish community around the world who are in need of this terrible event,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on stage that Sunday would be marked as a “day of national mourning,” the Times of Israel reported.
“There were heartbreaking scenes here. People who were crushed to death, including children, ”he said. “Many of the dead have not yet been identified, and I ask not to spread rumors on social networks because it breaks the hearts of the family. Let the authorities work. ”
He also praised the first respondents whose “quick work” prevented “a much bigger disaster” and added: “We will conduct a comprehensive, serious and detailed investigation to ensure that this type of disaster never happens again.”
Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana called for an independent investigation.
“A terrible disaster occurred last night. It is clear that there is a need for an independent study of all aspects related to the planning of the event, preparations, responsibilities, infrastructure, etc., “said Ohana according to the news release.
One of the wounded described the frightening minutes of the storm.
“There were a lot of people on me. And we slipped on top of each other, more and more and more people, until the police decided to just pull the fences down and start rescuing people, “the man told the Kan channel at a hospital.
“It took time, and in the meantime, I remember I was lying on someone and he was not breathing,” he said, according to the Times of Israel.
There was a point where someone just wanted to move, so he pushed a fist to it (which indicated his face), and I felt like I was stopping to breathe, and I said to him, I screamed, ‘Help me ! Move your hand! ‘And I cried to the people,’ I have a child at home, help me! ‘ He added.
“Nobody knew what to do. They threw water from above, that was all there was to do at the time. ”
Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah Emergency Services, told Army Radio that rescuers also found young children and rescued some by performing CPR.
“We have to wake up. I am shocked by the amount of people who were let in, ”he said.
Zaki Heller, a spokesman for Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, said people were crushed without being able to flee.
“Some of the wounded are still being treated on the spot,” he said daily, according to Maariv.
The tragedy took place at the first religious mass rally held legally when Israel lifted almost all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has seen cases fall since the launch of one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns at the end of last year.
Lag Ba’omer draws tens of thousands of people, most of them ultra-Orthodox Jews, each year to honor Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd-century sage and mystic who is buried there.
Large crowds traditionally light bonfires, pray and dance as part of the festivities. This year, the media estimated the amount at around 100,000 people.
With mail cables