Families gather at forensic center as officials work to identify 44 Meron dead

Families of victims of the deadly stampede at the Mount Meron pilgrimage site began to arrive Friday at Israel’s central forensic center to identify the bodies of the deceased.

As of early Friday afternoon, none of the 44 people killed in the tragedy that took place in the early hours of Friday morning had yet been officially named. Israelis were encouraged not to publicize information about the victims on social media until the families receive official word on the fate of their relatives.

The Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv was set to receive the bodies of Meron stampede victims, ahead of the identification process, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Yiddish-speaking social workers were on hand to assist the families, many of whom are ultra-Orthodox, arriving to identify the bodies, according to the ministry.

Some worried family members turned to social networks to post photos, desperately trying to find the missing.

At least 44 people were crushed to death and more than 100 people hurt, including many in critical condition, in a stampede at a mass gathering to celebrate the Lag B’Omer holiday at Mount Meron.

Israeli security officials and rescuers carry a body of a victim who died during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mt. Meron in northern Israel, April 30, 2021 (AP Photo)

Many families were still desperately tried to find relatives missing after the disaster.

Worried relatives had gathered at the Ziv hospital in Safed, the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, Rambam hospital in Haifa, Poriya hospital in Tiberias, and Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem.

Several hospitals opened hotlines for people to search for family and friends who may have been injured; Galilee: 04-9850505, Ziv: 04-6828838 and Poriya: 04-6652211.

A spokesperson for the Zaka emergency services group said Friday that the cellphones of the deceased were ringing continuously with calls from frantic loved ones.

“The phones of the dead don’t stop ringing and we see [the calls are from] ‘mom’ and ‘my dear wife,’” Motti Bokchin told Army Radio. “It’s unfathomable.”

The cellphone network in the area, not strong at the best of times, collapsed in the wake of the stampede, leaving worried family members unable to contact loved ones.

Israeli rescue forces and police at a mass fatality scene during a gathering for the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The situation was further complicated by the fact that many of the ultra-Orthodox participants in the event didn’t have cellphones, or had devices that were unable to send text messages or connect to the internet.

Bokchin said he expected all the victims to be identified and buried before sundown of the Jewish Sabbath on Friday evening.

The injured and dead included children, Army Radio reported. Many families attended the gathering and in some streams of Judaism, 3-year-old boys receive their first haircuts at the event.

The disaster appeared to be one of the worst peacetime tragedies in Israel’s history, equaling the death toll from the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.

More than 100,000 people were attending the annual gathering in the northern Galilee, which includes visits to the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and massive bonfires on the mountainside.

Crowd in the moments before the Mt Meron tragedy, April 30, 2021 (Screen grab)

A bonfire lighting ceremony for the Toldot Aharon Hassidic sect was being held at the pilgrimage area, close to Bar Yochai’s tomb. As the dense crowds began to exit, some apparently slipped on a walkway and down a flight of stairs, falling on those below and precipitating a stampede and fatal crushing.

Some 20,000 people streamed down a narrow walkway between two walls during the event. On the ground was slick metal flooring, which caused some people to fall underfoot during the rush for the exit.

Pictures from the scene showed bodies covered in blankets and bags as well as the personal effects and shoes of those trapped in the crush.

Source Link: https://www.timesofisrael.com/families-gather-at-forensic-center-as-officials-work-to-identify-44-meron-dead/

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