Hundreds of buses stretched over miles of winding road were ferrying thousands of worshipers off Mount Meron in northern Israel on Friday after 45 people were killed and some 150 others injured in a crush at a mass Jewish gathering overnight.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a “huge disaster,” while paramedics described chaotic scenes of teams administering CPR en masse to people, including children, lying breathless on the ground.
According to the Institute of Forensic Medicine, 32 of the victims have been identified, with 22 of those released for burial.
An official with knowledge of the list of fatalities said the final death toll is expected to include five US citizens.
The official said several factors were delaying an official statement, including the need to inform the families privately of their loss and Shabbat regulations. Families of two US citizens had already been told of their loss, the official said, and three more were expected to follow.
Kalanit Taub, a first responder, described a “horrific scene” with “nonstop people to care for.”
“I saw 20-plus CPRs ongoing at the same time,” Taub told CNN. “Anywhere you looked, you saw another person doing CPR.”
In the hours afterward, she said she saw people crying or staring into space, struggling to process what they had seen.
Israeli investigators are examining exactly how the crush happened at the mountain, where worshipers marked the Lag B’Omer holiday, an annual event where participants sing, dance and light fires in homage to second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at his burial site.