Dozens of people have been crushed to death in a stampede at a religious festival in Israel.
Authorities are dealing with the gruesome aftermath on Friday morning (local time) of what the country's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a "heavy disaster".
Media reports initially said a section of stadium seating had collapsed at the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee region of the country.
But officials later said it appeared the casualties had been asphyxiated or trampled in a stampede.
The incident happened after midnight and the cause of the stampede was not immediately clear.
Videos circulating on social media appear to show the chaotic scenes as hordes of attendees push through a narrow passage. Ultra-Orthodox men can be seen clambering through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush.
In another, body bags appear to be strewn across the pavement as paramedics attend to the wounded.
Israel’s national rescue service has officially confirmed some deaths at the stampede. Officials on the ground said some 150 people were hospitalised with early reports saying more than 40 people have died.
A spokesman for the Magen David Adom, Israel's rescue service, said "there were 38 dead at the scene but there were more at the hospital."
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had gathered at the tomb of the second-century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance.
The tomb is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and it is an annual pilgrimage site, and the deadly gathering was thought to be one of the largest crowds of people in Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.
'I felt like I was about to die': Witness
Police shut down the site and ordered revellers to be evacuated by bus.
A 24-year-old witness, identified only by his first name Dvir, told the Army Radio station “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.
“I felt like I was about to die,” he said.
🇮🇱🚨 — TRAGEDY: Multi casualty incident with deaths and many injuries reported, after a metal platform collapsed in Meron during Lag Baomer celebrations tonight — More to follow.
Please take your time to say Tehilim. pic.twitter.com/5GNAgsok3U
— Belaaz (@TheBelaaz) April 29, 2021
On Twitter, Mr Netanyahu called it a "heavy disaster" and added: "We are all praying for the well-being of the casualties."
The gathering had been held in defiance of health officials who had worries that crowding could pose a Covid-19 risk.
with Reuters, AP
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