THOUSANDS of religious devotees celebrate at an overcrowded festival — before at least 45 were killed yesterday in a crushing “pyramid of death”.
Orthodox Jews flocked to Mount Meron in Israel for the annual Lag B’Omer all-night holiday of prayers and dance.
But 100,000 revellers turned up — ten times as many as expected — and a 10ft-wide exit walkway turned into a deathtrap as some slipped over.
Shocked witnesses saw gasping victims, including children, piled on top of each other — while others were hurled into the air by the force of the crush.
Several of the 150 injured at the disaster in the north-east of the country were critically hurt and there were fears the death toll will rise.
Pilgrim Shlomo Katz, 36, said: “We were going to go inside for the dancing and all of a sudden saw paramedics doing CPR on kids. A pyramid, of one on top of another, formed. People died in front of me.”
Another survivor called David said: “Our bodies were swept along. People were thrown in the air, others were crushed on the ground.
'FIGHTING FOR HIS LIFE'
“A kid there kept pinching my leg, fighting for his life.”
Witness Zohar said: “I saw people lose the colour in their faces. People fell from above and crushed others.
“I will never forget the banging sounds, people flying all over.”
Emergency teams found dead and dying victims in heaps and managed to resuscitate several children.
As dawn broke yesterday, the disaster scene was littered with broken pushchairs, shoes, clothing and smashed glasses. Rows of bodies lay covered in foil blankets.
Tragedy struck in the male-only section of the festival, where Orthodox Jews go to the Galilee tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Many dead were yet to be identified and families with missing members were asked to provide photos.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site and called it one of Israel’s “heaviest disasters”, promising a thorough inquiry.
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