Volunteers at Israel’s national ambulance and disaster-relief organization, Magen David Adom — who were the first to come to the rescue at the mass-casualty incident, which took lives of 45 people on the eve of Lag B’Omer at Mount Meron in the Galilee — had feared that a disaster happening at the site was a matter of time.
“For us the instance started before the event. Each year we are prepared for the worst incidents with 230 ambulances and thousands of volunteers spread across the mountain, so if something happens we can be the first respondents and provide first aid. Our volunteers and teams are trained well and are used to seeing disasters, but this was the worst they have ever seen in their lives,” Uriel Goldberg, paramedic and International Relations Manager at Magen David Adom (MDA), told The Algemeiner. “For years volunteers were saying that the place can’t hold that number of people and every year they finished coming back with a sigh of relief saying, ‘thank god no disaster happened.’”
Goldberg, who on Thursday night was helping to coordinate the events at MDA’s National Operations Center in Kiryat Ono, recalled that at about 12:50 at night, volunteers at the Mount Meron site reported an unusual incident that had happened.
“First we thought it was a building that collapsed but then we understood that it was a stampede,” Goldberg said. “As we had teams stationed tens of meters away from each other spread across the mountain, they could react within minutes. Right in first moment, unfortunately those we treated were unconscious, not breathing and with no pulse. Others had critical head injuries, crushed legs and broken limbs.”
“Our biggest challenge was the cellphone reception for the teams to receive information. There was major pressure on phone lines,” he said. “We had problems with communicating with our teams at the scene, but we were able to use some of our own communication such as radio and PTT [push-to-talk] systems, also the Internet was working so we called via What’s App to manage the incident.”
MDA forces treated 150 injured on Mount Meron with hundreds of ambulances, intensive care vehicles, motorcycles, and unique rescue vehicles and clinics adapted to secure the event. Those wounded were evacuated to hospitals by ambulances and helicopters.
Asked about the lessons learnt from the catastrophic incident, Goldberg said that although MDA was well-prepared, the organization will work on what can be done better. In terms of the next steps, MDA has initiated blood drives to resupply blood stocks and will engage in providing psychological preparation to the organization’s teams.
In the aftermath of the Mount Meron incident, 2,208 civilians on Friday answered MDA’s public call for blood donations and arrived at MDA blood drives. Among the donors was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared Sunday a national day of mourning in Israel for the victims of Mount Meron.
“Magen David Adom would like to thank the public for their extensive and emotional response. Each unit of blood can help save the lives of three sick or injured people who need blood,” MDA tweeted.
Following the tragedy at Mount Meron, demonstrators on Saturday night stood in front of Netanyahu’s official Jerusalem residence, urging the government to establish a national commission of inquiry into the incident. Meanwhile, civilians in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem lit candles on major public squares in memory of those who died in the crush.