Israel crush: Witnesses tell of people 'thrown up in the air'

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Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Those at the scene described how they were swept along in the crush

People at the scene of a crush at a religious festival in Israel have told of how they were "swept along" by the crowd, while others were "thrown up in the air".

At least 44 people have been killed and dozens more injured at the Lag B'Omer festival at the foot of Mount Meron.

It is not yet clear what caused the crush - police sources told Haaretz newspaper it started after some attendees slipped on steps, causing others to fall.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims were at the event.

'Fighting for his life'

A man who gave his name as David said he was going in to see the bonfire lighting when "suddenly there was a wave coming out".

"Our bodies were swept along by themselves. People were thrown up in the air - others were crushed on the ground," he told Ynet news.

"There was a kid there who kept pinching my leg, fighting for his life. We waited to be rescued for 15-20 minutes in this crazy, terrible crush. It was awful."

Media caption,
Footage shows chaotic scenes in the aftermath of the deadly religious festival crush

One survivor who was taken to hospital told the Kan public broadcaster that "no-one knew what to do".

"It started with heavy crowding. There was a lot of people on top of me. I was lying on someone else who wasn't breathing. There were screams, chaos. I saw children underneath me. The only thing going through my mind was that I didn't want my child to be an orphan."

A pilgrim who gave his name as Yitzhak told Channel 12 TV: "We thought maybe there was a (bomb) alert over a suspicious package. No one imagined that this could happen here. Rejoicing became mourning, a great light became a deep darkness."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
One eyewitness described the scene as 'chaos'

One pilgrim who did not give his name said there was a "carousel" effect and people were pushed right and left.

"After 20 minutes I think people started suffocating so they wanted to get out, but no-one was able to get out. There were people under me who were not breathing anymore. There were horrible screams of 'I can't breathe'."

He said the screams slowly stopped and the scene was "chaos".

'Surreal scene'

Another eyewitness told Maariv: "We were at the entrance, we decided we wanted to get out and then the police blocked the gate, so whoever wanted to get out could not get out. In that hurry we fell on each other, I thought I was going to die.

"I saw people dead next to me."

Dov Maisel, director of operations for volunteer-based emergency services organisation United Hatzalah, told the BBC that immediately "there was a need for a massive amount of medical response there".

"It felt like a surreal scene where we had over 20 people undergoing CPR by our teams with limited ability to evacuate from the scene simply because the place was too overwhelmed with people.

"The evacuation stage took longer than we would have imagined... it was simply impossible. It was very very tough, I must say.

"I've been in this for over 30 years, and a scene like this I've yet to see," Mr Maisel said.

Worshipper Menachem Engel told the BBC he "saw tons of ambulances arriving. "I saw four-five people being carried on stretches."

Shlomo Katz said he was waiting for friends when he saw paramedics running and trying to resuscitate children at the same time.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Rescuers say those at the scene "crumpled like a pack of cards"

A witness who helped look after the injured told Haaretz: "I had just sat down to eat when I heard the screams. We rushed to help and then we saw the bodies. At the start it was about 10. Now there's many more."

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