At Least 45, Including Children, Dead After Stampede at Religious Festival in Israel
At least 45 people are dead, including children, after a stampede during a crowded religious celebration in Israel.
Reuters reports that tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish people had gathered for annual Lag B'Omer celebrations at the Galilee tomb of Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century rabbi, in northern Israel, when the tragedy occurred.
The stampede took place in a men's section of the festival (where individuals were separated by gender) along a tightly-packed passageway on the slopes of Mount Meron, according to multiple outlets including Reuters and The Irish Times.
In addition to the casualties were over 150 injuries, ABC News reports, during the yearly pilgrimage that sees gatherers come together for dancing, singing, all-night prayer and more to commemorate the anniversary of Rabbi Yochai's death.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human-interest stories.
One witness named Yitzhak told Channel 12 TV of the scene, "We thought maybe there was a [bomb] alert over a suspicious package" after chaos erupted, according to the Times.
"No one imagined that this could happen here. Rejoicing became mourning, a great light became a deep darkness," they added.
"Rabbi Shimon used to say that he could absolve the world. ... If he didn't manage to cancel this edict on the very day of his exaltation, then we need to do real soul-searching," said Yitzhak.
Another witness, 36-year-old Shlomo Katz, told Reuters, "We were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff and all of a sudden we saw paramedics from (ambulance service) MDA running by, like mid-CPR on kids."
RELATED VIDEO: Miami Pedestrian Bridge Collapses, Killing Several and Trapping Cars Underneath the Rubble
Added festival attendee Hayim Cohen, 19, to the latter outlet, "There was some kind of mess, police, screaming, a big mess, and after half an hour it looked like a scene of a suicide bombing attack, numerous people coming out from there on stretchers."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the tragedy as a "heavy disaster," adding on Twitter, "We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties."
"Let us all unite with the grief of the families and in prayer for the peace of the wounded. Blessed be the memory of those who perished," he wrote Friday, in Hebrew.
Netanyahu also declared Sunday "a national day of mourning following the disaster on Mount Meron, one of the heaviest disasters that befell the State of Israel."