How did the Israel stampede happen?

Israel is mourning following the deaths and injuries of dozens of pilgrims celebrating a religious festival in the north of the country.

At least 45 people died after during the Lag B’Omer festival held at Kever Rashbi, the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

It is one of the worst civilian disasters in the country’s history.

Concerns over the safety of the event had been raised for years, but what happened?

The celebration begins

The festival in Mount Meron began at sunset on Thursday and continued into the early hours of Friday morning.

Image:
This graphic shows the location of Mount Meron, and the specific site of the disaster

The celebration in the main area began with the lighting of a bonfire around 9pm.

After that, the festivities commenced. The tightly packed crowd celebrated by praying, singing, jumping and dancing in circles in honour of the prominent Rabbi from the second century.

Stampede breaks out

Local reports say the crush happened around 1am.

Cameras filming the main area where the festival was taking place don’t pick up on the accident.

Tens of thousands are seen singing and dancing earlier at the Lag B'Omer event
Image:
Tens of thousands are seen singing and dancing at the Lag B’Omer event

And the loud music and celebrations appear to cover the noise from those caught up in the crush.

The layout of Kever Rashbi includes a main staging area, with huge seating stands arranged so those attending can see the speakers, musicians and bonfires – which form a crucial part of the celebrations.

Early reports indicated that one of the seating stands had collapsed, but this was quickly dismissed.

It emerged that people were crushed as they tried to move away from this main area.

This is an aerial image of the site during this year’s festival:

The festival was densely packed
Image:
The festival was densely packed

It’s hard to see the layout from the number of people attending and because of the lighting.

But in this image taken during the day in 2018 of an empty Kever Rashbi, we can see the layout more clearly:

This drone image shared on Google Maps in 2018 shows us the layout of the complex. Pic: Google Maps
Image:
This drone image shared on Google Maps in 2018 shows us the layout of the complex. Pic: Google Maps

Distressing footage captured by those standing on stairways and raised areas of the complex showed people being crushed in a walkway.

And pictures taken the following morning in the daylight shows a cordoned off walkway, covered in debris.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews were gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations before the tragedy happened
Image:
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews were gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations before the tragedy happened

The metal handrail has been bent and twisted, showing the pressure of the crush.

The metal handrail was twisted and bent following the crush
Image:
The metal handrail was twisted and bent following the crush

This, along with eyewitness evidence, shows that people began to leave the main area through this walkway highlighted here:

In this image taken in 2018, the slope and stairs where the stampede happened can be clearly seen.
Image:
In this image taken in 2018, the slope and stairs where the stampede happened can be clearly seen

We can be sure this is the correct location because this local news report shared on Twitter shows distinctive stripes and metal on the floor:

The distinctive floor can be clearly seen in this local news report - including the metal sheeting. Pic: Twitter
Image:
The distinctive floor can be clearly seen in this local news report – including the metal sheeting. Pic: Twitter

We can see that same texture and pattern on our Google Maps image:

Zooming in closer, the distinctive floor is clearly visible. Pic: Google
Image:
Zooming in on the map, the distinctive floor is clearly visible. Pic: Google

The walkway is a steep slope which leads to a twisting stone stairway, with two small level areas.

The walkway has a steep slope that turns into twisting stairs. Pic: Google Maps
Image:
The walkway has a steep slope that turns into twisting stairs. Pic: Google Maps

One pilgrim injured during the festival told Israeli news site Ynet that the slope was wet and slippery from spilled drinks.

Something caused those walking through this slope and stairway to stop, but those walking behind carried on – leading to a crush.

Medical help is given

The first sign of help comes as a group of paramedics carry someone through the crowd on a stretcher.

In the livestream, we hear the speaker ask the crowd: “Don’t stand in the stairs! Free the way!”

Seconds later, we see a group of paramedics rushing through the throngs in the direction of the packed slope.

The orange of the medics uniforms carrying a person can just be made out in this screenshot of a livestream. Pic: YouTube/Shiezoli
Image:
The orange of the medics uniforms carrying a person can just be made out in this screenshot of a livestream. Pic: YouTube/Shiezoli

The tightly packed crowd of pilgrims attempt to continue dancing, jumping and enjoying the festival up to the moment the organisers ask on the loudspeaker for the crowd to part for paramedics.

Panic sets in as the severity of the situation becomes clearer, and the crowd begins to disperse.

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Festival dancing day after stampede

Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s emergency medical services, said they treated 150 people who were injured in the stampede.

“For more than 20 years, Magen David Adom teams have been medically securing the revelry in Meron, and this year it was one of the most complex security operations.” said MDA Director General Eli Bin.

“All the forces acted quickly and with dedication in a very difficult and complex arena.”

Source Link: http://news.sky.com/story/how-did-the-israel-stampede-happen-12291443

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