ZAKA volunteer: 'Dozens of people were lying on the floor'

'Everywhere there were cries for help, there was the smell of death and bereavement,' recounts ZAKA volunteer who responded to scene of Meron disaster.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

ZAKA volunteer at Meron after the disaster
ZAKA volunteer at Meron after the disaster
ZAKA/ Aharon Baruch Leibowitz

ZAKA volunteers working to identify the 44 people who were killed in a Lag Ba'omer stampede in Meron described the scenes which met their eyes when the arrived.

The stampede, which occurred during the early hours of Friday morning, left at least 44 people dead and over 150 injured.

ZAKA volunteer Haim Spielberg, who responded to the scene, said: "This is one of the most difficult disasters I have dealt with during my volunteering for the ZAKA organization. I received a call from ZAKA about a mass casualty incident. When I arrived, I saw dozens of people lying on the floor, having been pushed into a narrow passage. Everywhere, there were cries for help. Medics and paramedics were administering CPR on some of them. There was the smell of death and bereavement in the air as more and more stretchers with lifeless people were carried from the scene."

"While we were working at the scene, it was so distressing to hear the constant ringing of the cellphones of the deceased. Tears flowed from my eyes when I saw the words Dad or Mum on the phone screen. The rescue and security forces kept removing more and more bodies from the scene.

"The dozens of ZAKA volunteers, who were already at the scene as part of our regular campaign to help those making the annual pilgrimage to the site, worked throughout the night to clear the scene, reunite loved ones and help identify the victims."

Haim Weingarten, Special Operations Commander at ZAKA, recalled: "This is a painful and tragic event. The ZAKA Missing Person's center on Mount Meron, which had been active earlier in the evening re-uniting children separated from their families, immediately became a center for information and to locate missing family members."

"At the beginning of the incident, dozens of families flocked to the ZAKA headquarters in search of their loved ones who were not answering their phones. It was painful and difficult to see parents and family members in this horrific situation. Dozens of bodies of the deceased were transported by ZAKA vehicles, ambulances and special trucks for further identification and burial."

ZAKA volunteer cleaning up after the disaster
ZAKA/ Aharon Baruch Leibowitz

ZAKA Northern District Commander, Rabbi Anshel Friedman recited the Kaddish mourner's prayer with the ZAKA volunteers who had worked throughout the night, preparing dozens of deceased for their final journey.

ZAKA volunteers are now working alongside the police and emergency services in helping identify the victims.