Several dead, many injured after bleachers collapse during festival in Israel

Footage of the aftermath shows chaos and disorder as emergency services swarm the scene.
Footage of the aftermath shows chaos and disorder as emergency services swarm the scene. Photo credit: Breaking 911 / Screengrabs

More than 30 people are dead and at least 20 others injured after bleachers collapsed during a religious festival in Meron, northern Israel, according to initial reports.

Revellers in the mountainside town had been attending a major bonfire in celebration of Lag B'Omer, a Jewish religious holiday, on Thursday night (local time) when the stadium seating collapsed, crushing multiple people. The exact number of deaths remains unconfirmed. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described it as a "heavy disaster".

"We are all praying for the wellbeing of the casualties," he said.

Israeli television channel Channel 12 initially reported at least 15 fatalities, however a Reuters journalist said that number had risen to 28. 

About an hour later, local media said more than 30 people had been killed by the collapsed structure. 

Medics from Magen David Adom, the country's national ambulance service, said dozens of people have been wounded, including 20 in a critical condition.

Early reports said United Hatzalah, a volunteer-based emergency service, had been treating at least 30 more people for various injuries sustained from the falling structure and debris.

Numerous people have reportedly been struck and knocked unconscious.

According to local media, tens-of-thousands of Orthodox Jews had gathered at the tomb of a 2nd century sage for annual commemorations, which include all-night prayer and dance.

The gathering was held in defiance of health officials, who expressed concern that crowding could pose a public health risk amid the ongoing pandemic. Israeli authorities said on Thursday (local time) that two people had been arrested for disrupting police efforts to maintain order at the site.