At least 44 people were killed and many more injured in a stampede at the grave of a Jewish sage in northern Israel, according to rescue services and local media.
The Israeli army was assisting civilian rescue workers at the “mass casualty event”. Footage from the scene at Mount Meron showed that part of the stadium where ultra-Orthodox worshippers had been celebrating the festival of Lag B’omer had collapsed.
Last year due to coronavirus restrictions, this year’s pilgrimage was expected to be a celebratory event in a nation that has largely re-opened thanks to a successful vaccination effort.The pilgrimage was largest public gathering since the pandemic began, with reports that there were three times more people there than authorised.
Initial reports indicated that the carnage began when a section of stadium seating collapsed but rescue workers later linked the casualties to a stampede.A spokesman for the Magen David Adom, Israel’s rescue service, told AFP “there were 38 dead at the scene but there were more at the hospital.”
Separate reports said overcrowding had led to a stampede, citing survivors. A spokesperson for Israel’s ambulance services told Ynet News that most of the deaths were caused by severe overcrowding.
“We thought maybe there was a [bomb] alert over a suspicious package. No one imagined that this could happen here,” a pilgrim told a local news channel.