JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – US citizens are among the dozens killed and injured in a stampede at a religious festival in Israel, the US Embassy said on Saturday (May 1), as criticism mounted in the wake of one of the biggest civilian disasters in the country’s history.
At least 45 people were crushed to death and more than 100 injured at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish festival on the slopes of Israel’s Mount Meron, held overnight between Thursday and Friday.
The exact cause of the disaster is still not clear, but witness accounts and videos posted on social media suggested that some people had fallen down stairs leading out of a narrow passageway packed by hundreds of worshippers trying to exit the site, as a surge of people came down upon those ahead of them who had fallen, being trampled and asphyxiated.
One witness described seeing a pyramid of people piling up one on top of the other. Authorities said children were among those hurt.
Avigdor Hayut, injured in the crush, lost his 13-year-old son. He said they were caught under a mass of people.
“I was on the floor. Twenty seconds stood between me being with him now, no more. I was already numb and my vision was blurred,” he told reporters before he was released from hospital to attend his son’s funeral.
“My son was screaming to me ‘daddy I’m going to die’,”Hayut said. “They got me out at the last minute.”
The Health Ministry said 42 of the dead had been identified by late on Saturday. The identification process paused for 24 hours in observance of the Jewish Sabbath and resumed on Saturday evening, and families held late-night burials.
Around 20 of the people injured were still in hospital by Friday night. More than 2,000 Israelis across the country responded to an emergency call for blood donations, according to Magen David Adom, Israel’s ambulance service.
A US Embassy representative said: “We can confirm that multiple US citizens were among the casualties.”
Those included both dead and injured. The US Embassy was