Jewish pilgrims making their way to Mount Meron on Sunday described a chaotic scene complete with overcrowding and major traffic jams, a situation exacerbated by the sweltering heat that caused dozens to faint or suffer dehydration.
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Some 300,000 visitors made their way to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai overnight and on Sunday for Lag Ba'omer. But when the transportation services and the road infrastructure failed to accommodate the number of revelers, many became trapped in buses on the way to the site, and at the site on their way out.
One woman, whose bus got stuck in traffic on its way from Jerusalem, decided to disembark after eight hours on the road and continue the rest of the way by foot; she soon collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital in Safed.
United Hatzalah, an emergency medical service, dispatched volunteer medical crews to Mount Meron to provide first aid and give out water, according to Ze'ev Kashash, the organization's chairman.
"It wasn't a pretty picture," he said. "People charged at every bus that arrived, trampling each other. Some were injured and fainted."
"It's unclear what caused the failure," he said, referring to the breakdown in the transportation services. He noted he doesn't remember such situations occurring in the past.
Thousands of buses were scheduled to transport visitors to and from Mount Meron, some of which were operated by the Egged. Ron Ratner, a spokesman for the company, said hundreds of its buses, as well as buses belonging to other firms, got stuck on Sunday morning on the roads circling the pilgrimage site, causing major delays. Regular traffic appeared to be restored by the afternoon.
According to the police, the site initially anticipated 250,000 visitors throughout the entire holiday, but as many as 200,000 arrived overnight alone.
"It's inevitable that a large number of revelers will cause heavy traffic," a spokesman for the police's Northern District said.