Author: Claudia Aoraha
This post originally appeared on World News – breaking international headlines and exclusives | The Sun
AT LEAST 40 people have died and 65 others were injured in a stampede at a religious bonfire festival in Israel on Friday, local media reports.
Multiple casualties and fatalities were reported after a metal grandstand platform apparently collapsed at the overcrowded Jewish festival of Lag B’Omer in Meron just after midnight.
The Times of Israel reported that many had been crushed to death during the disaster as thousands of orthodox Jews gathered for the largest festival held in Israel since the Covid outbreak began.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the crush as a “heavy disaster” as rescuers rushed to free trapped festival goers.
The mass gathering took place at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations when the structure collapsed.
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.
Reports are conflicting on the number of people who were injured, with the Associated Press reporting that authorities indicated up to 150 may have been hospitalized in the early hours of Friday morning.
The Jerusalem Post reported that of dozens who were injured, about 44 people were in critical condition, citing Israel’s national emergency service, Magen David Adom (MDA).
Initial reports said a stand had collapsed at one of the concerts – however, rescue services said the tragedy was caused by a crush and overcrowding.
The IDF, which sent its 669 rescue team to the site, said a roof had also collapsed.
A pilgrim at the festival told a local news channel: “We thought maybe there was a [bomb] alert over a suspicious package.
“No one imagined that this could happen here. Rejoicing became mourning, a great light became a deep darkness.”
Netanyahu said, “Everyone is praying for the recovery of the injured.”
MDA spokesman Zaki Heller told the Ynet news site that due to the severe overcrowding, it took some time to help people who had been trapped.
“The rescue teams were called to one of the concerts near Bar Yochai’s tomb, where there was a terrible crush near a building. There were dozens trapped on a nearby stand and it took time to evacuate them,” Heller said.
Other videos from the scene showed rescue workers were attempting to set up a field hospital – and dozens of ambulances could be seen trying to navigate through the huge crowds.
Reports indicate that around 100,000 people may have been attending the night’s events, despite health officials warning that people should not gather in large crowds even as Covid cases were plummeting across Israel.
Around 5,000 police were deployed to secure the event, with the cops urging pilgrims to avoid incidents during the feast when bonfires are lit.
Police said on Thursday that they had arrested two people for disrupting officers’ efforts to keep order at the site.
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This 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 Covid cases plummet since launching one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.
The tomb is also considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and it is an annual pilgrimage site.
More to follow…
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