At least 44 were killed and about 150 injured overnight Friday during the Lag B’Omer celebrations in the bonfire section of the Toldot Aharon dynasty on Mount Meron in northern Israel. Videos on social media show many hundreds of Chassidim crowded in a narrow corridor, and as one eyewitness described it, “In one moment everything exploded and people just fell and trampled on each other.”
נורא לראות את הצפיפות שהיתה במעבר הצר, ואת הדוחק העצום שהוביל בסוף לאסון הקשה והמחריד. pic.twitter.com/1RE7FggFXt
— ישראל כהן (@Israelcohen911) April 29, 2021
In addition to the dead, medical teams treated six in critical condition, 18 who sustained medium injuries, eight moderate, and 81 in mild condition. They were evacuated to the Ziv, Nahariya, Poria, Rambam, Haemek, and Ein Kerem hospitals.
Six helicopters were called to evacuate the wounded. Fighters from the IDF rescue unit are also operating at the scene. Magen David Adom ambulances arrived from across the north to evacuate the wounded to hospitals.
Police have launched an investigation at the point where the disaster took place and estimate that about 100,000 people were crowded on the mountain at the time of the collapse – when the maximum allowance was for 10,000. The preliminary police investigation revealed that some of the people who were squeezed together slipped down the stairs, creating a human avalanche under which many were crushed.
The celebrations on Mt. Meron were stopped following the disaster, and the crowds were instructed to leave. Buses and other vehicles that were making their way to the mountain were stopped at police checkpoints and ordered to turn around. Police are urging the public not to come to the area, and announced that “hundreds of buses are available to transport people to train stations and central bus stations across the country and the north.”
Hundreds still gathered outside Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s gravesite near the area of the disaster around 7 AM on Friday. They engaged in confrontations with police and refused to be evacuated.
The celebration of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai took place with police approval and was conducted by the commander of the Northern District, Superintendent Shimon Lavi, who also present at the time of the incident. Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai and Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana were also on the mountain.
The celebration began on Thursday evening and was the largest event held in Israel since the beginning of the Corona crisis.
United Hatzalah medical personnel performed CPR on several critically injured individuals following the mass casualty incident near the Toldot Aharon bonfire. Medical volunteers from the organization treated dozens more who suffered serious, moderate, and light injuries.
One of the injured, Avraham Leiba from Jerusalem, told Kan 11 News: “It started because of a very large load. There were many people on top of me, I lay on someone and he was not breathing. There were screams and chaos, I saw children under me. The only thing that was going through my mind was that I didn’t want my child to be an orphan.”
The crowds were dense from the beginning of the evening at the Lag B’Omer in Meron, and several barricades collapsed under the pressure of the crowd. Earlier, before the disaster, an 80-year-old man collapsed and was taken to hospital in critical condition.