JERUSALEM (AP) — The holiday of Lag BaOmer is one of the happiest days on the calendar for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community — a time of mass celebrations in honor of a revered sage. But in a split second, the festive gathering in northern Israel turned into one of the country’s worst-ever tragedies, with at least 45 people crushed to death and dozens injured in a stampede.
The disaster prompted a national outpouring of grief as devastated families rushed to identify their dead relatives and bury them ahead of the Jewish Sabbath. There was also anger toward authorities over an accident that experts had long feared, further clouding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hopes of remaining in office.
Netanyahu, who briefly visited Mount Meron at midday, offered his condolences. “In these moments our people unite and that is what we are doing at this moment as well,” he said.
He announced Sunday would be a day of national mourning and said he had joined the masses of people who donated blood for the victims. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin lit 45 candles in honor of the dead. Messages of condolences poured in from around the world.
President Joe Biden said he was heartbroken and had called Netanyahu to offer support. “The people of the United States and Israel are bound together by our families, our faiths, and our histories, and we will stand with our friends,” he said.
The stampede erupted around 1 a.m. as people began to leave and thronged a narrow, tunnel-like passage. According to witnesses, people began to fall on a slippery ramp, causing others to trip and sparking panic.
EW DELHI (AP) — India set another global record in new virus cases, as millions of people in one state cast votes despite rising infections and the country geared up to open its vaccination rollout to all adults amid snags.
With 379,257 new infections, India now has reported more than 18.3 million cases, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry also reported 3,645 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 204,832. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.
India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge. And the country’s already teetering health system is under immense strain, prompting multiple allies to send help.
A country of nearly 1.4 billion people, India had thought the worst was over when cases ebbed in September. But mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue, and relaxed attitudes on the risks fed by leaders touting victory over the virus led to what now has become a major humanitarian crisis, health experts say. New variants of the coronavirus have partly led the surge.
Amid the crisis, voting for the eighth and final phase of the West Bengal state elections began Thursday, even as the devastating surge of infections continued to barrel across the country with ferocious speed, filling crematoriums and graveyards.
More than 8 million people are eligible to vote in at least 11,860 polling stations across the state. The Election Commission has said social distancing measures will be in place.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have faced criticism over the last few weeks for holding huge election rallies in the state, which health experts suggest may have driven the surge there. Other political parties also participated in rallies.
ST. PETERS, Mo. (AP) — A 21-year-old eastern Missouri man suspected of shooting a police officer was shot and killed when he fired several rounds at officers who were pursuing him, authorities said.
Joe Robideau, of Troy, died after being shot Thursday evening, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office said.
Robideau was a suspect in the shooting of a St. Peters police officer during a traffic stop earlier Thursday. That officer was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to the leg and released.
After Robideau was spotted Thursday evening by an off-duty Lake St. Louis police officer, Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies and officers from several law enforcement agencies joined in the pursuit, which led to southern Lincoln County.
The suspect stopped near Foristell, jumped out of vehicle and immediately began shooting at officers, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office said in a news release Friday. After shooting several rounds from one rifle, he continued firing from a second weapon.
Two Lincoln County deputies and a Lake St. Louis officer returned fired, hitting Robideau, who died at a hospital. No law enforcement officers were hurt.
One Lincoln County deputy is 25 with four years of service, and the other is 53 with 30 years of service, the department said. The Lake St. Louis officer is 38 with 15 years of service.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating the shooting.