At least 38 people have been killed after a “disastrous” crush at a religious bonfire festival in Israel.
Israel’s ambulance service has told Sky News that “scores” of people have died, and local media is reporting that there have been 44 fatalities.
Dozens of people were hurt at the Lag B’Omer event in northern Mount Meron, where annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance were taking place.
Footage on social media showed chaotic scenes as men clambered through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron – trying to escape the crush.
The country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has described the incident as a “heavy disaster”, adding: “We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties.”
(1/2) MDA Spokesperson: at 00:50 a report was received at the MDA 101 Emergency Call center for bleachers which nun collapsed at Har Meron. MDA EMTs and Paramedics are on scene treating tens of injured including those who are in critical condition. An update will follow as needed pic.twitter.com/OmU3KCzhha
— Magen David Adom (@Mdais) April 29, 2021
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had gathered at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century sage.
The tomb is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world.
Magen David Adom, Israel’s ambulance service, said it was “fighting for the lives of the dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated”.
Early on Friday morning, officials confirmed they were treating 103 people – including 38 in a critical condition.
Police have shut down the site and ordered attendees to be evacuated by bus.
One witness told the Army Radio station that he felt like he was about to die – and said “masses of people were pushed into the same corner and a vortex was created”.
He said a first row of people fell down, and then a second row, where he was standing, also began to fall down from the pressure of the stampede.
Yoni Yagodozsky, a spokesman for Israel’s emergency services, said mobile intensive care units and helicopters were used to transport the most seriously injured to hospital.
He told Sky News that first responders were “well trained and well prepared” for these types of events, and had actually completed an exercise anticipating such a scenario.
“In the beginning, there was concern that one of the construction sets built in the area had collapsed. Then, it became more and more clear that people were trying to escape,” he said.
The gathering had been held despite health officials warning that the crowding could cause coronavirus to spread.
Israel has seen COVID-19 cases plummet since launching one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns late last year.