At least 45 people are dead, and at least another 150 were injured after a stampede broke out at a religious celebration on the slopes of Israel's Mount Meron.
As reported by Reuters, tens of thousands of individuals went to the tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai Friday night for the annual Lag b'Omer festival. The outlet reports that the commemoration was segregated by gender, and included all-night prayer, mystical songs, and dance.
The New York Times adds that the event was the largest gathering in Israel since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and was approved by authorities.
Though it is unclear what exactly prompted the stampede, The Times reports that the evening turned chaotic around 1 a.m. when the narrow alleyways around the main stage became clogged.
“It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster,” one witness told the Haaretz newspaper.
Though initial reports claim that a grandstand had collapsed, it appears that the crush happened after individuals slipped on stone steps leading into a narrow passageway with a metal-floored slope.
Chaim Vertheimer, an injured attendee, told Israeli news outlet Ynet that the floor had become slippery from spilled water and grape juice.
“For some reason, there was sudden pressure at this point and people stopped, but more people kept coming down,” Vertheimer said from his hospital bed in Safed. “People were not breathing. I remember hundreds of people screaming, ‘I can’t breathe.’”
Per The Times, some rescue workers blame the situation on the large number of attendees at the event.
According to outlets including Reuters and The Times, 45 people, including children, were crushed to death by the stampede. By late afternoon, the Health Ministry said 32 of the dead had been identified.
Magen David Adom, the national ambulance service, said early Friday that it had treated 150 injured people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement Friday on Twitter, calling the event a "heavy disaster.”
"We are all praying for the well-being of the casualties,” he wrote. "Let us all unite with the grief of the families and in prayer for the peace of the wounded. Blessed be the memory of those who perished.”
ביום ראשון נקיים יום אבל לאומי ונוריד את דגלי ישראל לחצי התורן בכל מבני הציבור, בסיסי צה״ל ונציגויות ישראל בחו״ל. בואו נתייחד כולנו עם היגון של המשפחות ובתפילה לשלום הפצועים. יהי זכר הנספים ברוך 🙏🏻🇮🇱— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 30, 2021
Netanyahu also declared Sunday "a national day of mourning following the disaster on Mount Meron, one of the heaviest disasters that befell the State of Israel."
Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by this horrible tragedy.