At least 44 people were killed in a stampede at a religious site in Israel on Friday, AFP reported. Hundreds have been injured in Meron, where thousands of Jews had gathered to mark the Lag BaOmer holiday at the tomb of a second-century sage.

The site was closed in 2020 due to coronavirus restrictions but was opened up this year as curbs was eased in the rest of Israel following mass vaccinations.

Rescue workers have complained of having a hard time evacuating those injured because of chaotic crowds. They had to use helicopters to evacuate many people. Some of the injured have been taken to nearby hospitals while some were taken to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Reports said that the crowd at the site was at least three times what was authorised.

“There were 38 dead at the scene but there were more at the hospital,” a spokesperson for Israel’s rescue service told the news agency. An official from the Ziv Hospital, which was among the institutions receiving casualties, said there were at least six deaths.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was praying for those who were injured in the “heavy disaster”.

Videos on social media showed huge crowds before the stampede, and rows of corpses afterwards. Some reports said that the disaster was because a platform collapsed, but others have said that the stampede was the main cause.