Forty-five 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.
Six U.S. citizens were among the dead, according to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Two Canadians, a British citizen and an Argentinian were also killed.
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 there were children 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 32 of the dead had been identified by late Friday. The identification process paused for 24 hours in observance of the Jewish Sabbath and resumed on Saturday evening as families prepared for burials.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Friday that consulate officials in New York were in contact with four families of victims and the Israeli embassy in Argentina was in contact with one family.
U.S. media have identified some of the dead, including a 19-year-old American citizen who was in Israel on a gap year.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that two Canadians were killed in the disaster.
There had been concern for years about safety risks at the annual event, held at the tomb of a 2nd-century Jewish sage in the Galilee.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a thorough investigation to ensure the tragedy would not happen again.
The Justice Ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct connected to the tragedy.
But police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, in a message to the police force, said that police should not be singled out.
“We are working to discover the truth and produce educated and balanced lessons for all organizations involved in this complex event,” he said.
Day of Mourning
Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday for the 45 killed in the stampede, with flags lowered to half-staff.
In accordance with Jewish tradition, funerals were held with as little delay as possible. More than 20 of the victims of the disaster were buried overnight after official identification was completed.
“We’re all heartbroken, saddened, shattered into a million pieces. There are no words to describe the feeling of the entire country,” Rabbi Velvel Brevda, 66, said on Sunday on Mount Meron, where prayer vigils were being held.
Epoch Times staff contributed to this report