(Update 1 of casualty figures, rewrites, edits throughout)
Jerusalem, Apr 30 (EFE).- At least 44 have people have been killed in a crowd crush and stampede at a religious festival attended by tens of thousands of people in northern Israel early on Friday morning.
More than 150 others were injured in the incident that took place as ultra-Orthodox Jews were celebrating the holiday festival of Lag Ba’Omer with singing, dancing and bonfires at the foot of Mount Meron in Galilee to honor Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is buried there.
During the night, emergency services transported casualties by ambulance and helicopter to hospitals in northern and central Israel with added support from the police and the army.
All of the injured have now been evacuated, according to the police.
The stampede was caused after some revelers slipped on steps, causing a ‘human avalanche’ that crushed many, local media reported.
While the exact cause of the stampede has not been established by authorities, a spokesman for emergency service United Hatzalah told EFE it could have been due to overcrowding.
“Our volunteers in the area say that there was a collapse due to overcrowding and people fell on top of each other,” causing many to “flee” and find themselves in a more densely populated situation, he added.
One witness told Israeli news outlet Haaretz that “it happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster,” while two different witnesses told the newspaper that a police barricade prevented people from exiting and caused overcrowding.
“A heavy disaster on Mount Meron,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We are all praying for the recovery of the injured. I ask to strengthen the rescue forces operating in the area.”
Lag Ba’Omer was carried out without heavy restrictions after Israel had returned to almost complete normality after a swift Covid-19 vaccination program. The festival was the country’s largest gathering since the epidemic began. EFE