“Goodbye!” yelled a man from the boat company. “Have a good trip!”

Government officials are largely absent from the Darién. The area is controlled by a criminal group known as the Clan del Golfo, whose members view migrants much as they view drugs: goods they can tax and control.

Once the migrants step off the boats, they are met by smugglers — typically poor men in the area who offer to take them into the jungle, starting at $250 a person. For an extra $10 they will carry a backpack. For another $30, a child.

Farline and her family spent the night in a tent at the edge of the jungle. In the morning, they set out before sunrise, alongside hundreds of others.

“I carry bags,” smugglers shouted. “I carry children!”

Soon, a vast plain became a towering forest. Farline clambered between trees, following her parents. Vladensky slept on his mother’s chest. Other children cried, the first to show signs of exhaustion.

As the group crossed river after river, tired adults began to abandon their bags. They clambered up and then down a steep, muddy slope, only to stare up at the next one. Faces that were hopeful, even excited, that morning went slack with exhaustion.

A woman in a leopard-print dress fainted. A crowd formed. A man gave her water. Then they all rose, picked up their bags and began to walk.

Today, after all, was just day one in the Darién, and they had a long journey ahead.

Julie Turkewitz reported from Necoclí, Colombia; Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City; and Sofía Villamil from Necoclí and Bajo Chiquito, Panama. Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Mary Triny Zea from Panama City.

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Cable-Car Tragedy Shakes a Town Already Wounded by the Pandemic

STRESA, Italy — The sun shone brightly Sunday on Lago Maggiore, a spectacular alpine lake that traverses the Italian-Swiss border. Fabrizio Bertoletti, the owner of a small hotel with a restaurant perched atop Mottarone mountain, was feeling upbeat.

After months of off-and-on coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and hotels here were finally starting to open. Indoor dining is still banned but, he said, “it was a beautiful day and people weren’t going to complain even if they had to eat outside.”

On a terrace with breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains that cradle it, Mr. Bertoletti’s restaurant can seat about 70, and it was completely booked. The hotel and restaurant, aptly named “Eden,” sit just a few feet from the upper station of a cable car that links the summit to the lakeside town of Stresa, a popular vacation destination almost 5,000 feet below.

“We were feeling relieved, there was a sense of re-beginning. And then … ” Mr. Bertoletti’s voice trailed off.

a cable car carrying 15 passengers plunged to the ground. All but one died. The sole survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, lost both of his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents.

“All the seasons of life were in that cabin,” said the Reverend Gian Luca Villa, Stresa’s parish priest.

It is an incomprehensible loss for the victims’ families, but people here cannot help noting that it is also another in a series of blows, stretching back more than a year, for a tourism-dependent area that has suffered greatly from the pandemic.

Borromeo family, and an annual music festival in the fall.

The lake, more than 30 miles long, lies on the boundary between the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, making it a favorite getaway for people from Milan and Turin, and it also draws many foreigners. The tourist season normally begins at Easter and lasts well into autumn, luring visitors with mild temperatures and colors of leaf-turning brilliance.

But last year, in March and April, Lombardy became the first part of Europe to be hit in full force by the new virus, which killed tens of thousands of people here.

The pandemic put a halt to most vacation plans, and several hotels around the lake never opened their doors. Proximity to Switzerland, which had less stringent coronavirus rules, penalized towns on the Italian side, said Gian Maria Vincenzi, the president of the local hoteliers’ association.

The cable car accident “is a tragedy within the tragedy of Covid, which nearly wiped out work,” he said.

Antonio Zacchera, whose family owns four hotels on Lago Maggiore, said that last year, two remained shuttered.

“About a quarter of our clients are Americans, and the fact that we were dependent on foreigners used to be an advantage,” he said. But with pandemic-induced travel restrictions, “it was a disadvantage this round.”

Like other hoteliers in the area, Mr. Zacchera made rooms available to the families of the cable-car victims. “Our first thoughts are with them,” he said.

The cable car was popular with tourists, but also with locals, who would ride to the top to get to the ski schools in winter, or just for the view. “You never thought anything bad could happen, until it does, and it’s a disaster,” said Alberto De Martini, the owner of the Enoteca Da Giannino in Stresa’s central square, as he sanitized his restaurant’s tables and chairs.

On Monday, the city commemorated the dead, ringing bells and shuttering stores for 14 minutes, one for each victim. Massimo Colla, the owner of the wine bar and bistro Al Buscion, said he kept it closed for the entire day. “When tragedy happens close to home, you feel it intensely,” he said. “It’s going to take time for the city to get over this.”

Father Villa, the priest, said that he had gathered the faithful in prayer soon after the crash and held other services on Monday. With the city, he has planned a commemorative mass on Wednesday, for the emergency workers and others who combed the mountainside searching, mostly in vain, for survivors among the dead. He said that 14 candles would be lit during the service and the victims would be named and remembered, one by one.

Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor of just eight months, said she was looking for a permanent way to commemorate the victims. “May 23 will be our September 11,” she said in an emotional interview in her office.

“Though citizens were in shock,” she said that locals had stepped up as best they could. Civil protection volunteers immediately arrived on the scene, along with the emergency workers. Hotel owners took in victims’ families, taxi drivers transported people without charge and local health authorities had provided psychologists.

“People come to Stresa because they feel safe,” Ms. Severino said — the town is small and tight-knit, with little crime. “Obviously, for the families of the victims, Stresa will become a nefarious name,” she said. “But I hope that they will remember how the city tried to be close to them.”

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Italian Cable Car Tragedy Shakes a Town Already Wounded by the Pandemic

STRESA, Italy — The sun shone brightly Sunday on Lago Maggiore, a spectacular alpine lake that traverses the Italian-Swiss border. Fabrizio Bertoletti, the owner of a small hotel with a restaurant perched atop Mottarone mountain, was feeling upbeat.

After months of off-and-on coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and hotels here were finally starting to open. Indoor dining is still banned but, he said, “it was a beautiful day and people weren’t going to complain even if they had to eat outside.”

On a terrace with breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains that cradle it, Mr. Bertoletti’s restaurant can seat about 70, and it was completely booked. The hotel and restaurant, aptly named “Eden,” sit just a few feet from the upper station of a cable car that links the summit to the lakeside town of Stresa, a popular vacation destination almost 5,000 feet below.

“We were feeling relieved, there was a sense of re-beginning. And then … ” Mr. Bertoletti’s voice trailed off.

a cable car carrying 15 passengers plunged to the ground. All but one died. The sole survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, lost both of his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents.

“All the seasons of life were in that cabin,” said the Reverend Gian Luca Villa, Stresa’s parish priest.

It is an incomprehensible loss for the victims’ families, but people here cannot help noting that it is also another in a series of blows, stretching back more than a year, for a tourism-dependent area that has suffered greatly from the pandemic.

Borromeo family, and an annual music festival in the fall.

The lake, more than 30 miles long, lies on the boundary between the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, making it a favorite getaway for people from Milan and Turin, and it also draws many foreigners. The tourist season normally begins at Easter and lasts well into autumn, luring visitors with mild temperatures and colors of leaf-turning brilliance.

But last year, in March and April, Lombardy became the first part of Europe to be hit in full force by the new virus, which killed tens of thousands of people here.

The pandemic put a halt to most vacation plans, and several hotels around the lake never opened their doors. Proximity to Switzerland, which had less stringent coronavirus rules, penalized towns on the Italian side, said Gian Maria Vincenzi, the president of the local hoteliers’ association.

The cable car accident “is a tragedy within the tragedy of Covid, which nearly wiped out work,” he said.

Antonio Zacchera, whose family owns four hotels on Lago Maggiore, said that last year, two remained shuttered.

“About a quarter of our clients are Americans, and the fact that we were dependent on foreigners used to be an advantage,” he said. But with pandemic-induced travel restrictions, “it was a disadvantage this round.”

Like other hoteliers in the area, Mr. Zacchera made rooms available to the families of the cable-car victims. “Our first thoughts are with them,” he said.

The cable car was popular with tourists, but also with locals, who would ride to the top to get to the ski schools in winter, or just for the view. “You never thought anything bad could happen, until it does, and it’s a disaster,” said Alberto De Martini, the owner of the Enoteca Da Giannino in Stresa’s central square, as he sanitized his restaurant’s tables and chairs.

On Monday, the city commemorated the dead, ringing bells and shuttering stores for 14 minutes, one for each victim. Massimo Colla, the owner of the wine bar and bistro Al Buscion, said he kept it closed for the entire day. “When tragedy happens close to home, you feel it intensely,” he said. “It’s going to take time for the city to get over this.”

Father Villa, the priest, said that he had gathered the faithful in prayer soon after the crash and held other services on Monday. With the city, he has planned a commemorative mass on Wednesday, for the emergency workers and others who combed the mountainside searching, mostly in vain, for survivors among the dead. He said that 14 candles would be lit during the service and the victims would be named and remembered, one by one.

Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor of just eight months, said she was looking for a permanent way to commemorate the victims. “May 23 will be our September 11,” she said in an emotional interview in her office.

“Though citizens were in shock,” she said that locals had stepped up as best they could. Civil protection volunteers immediately arrived on the scene, along with the emergency workers. Hotel owners took in victims’ families, taxi drivers transported people without charge and local health authorities had provided psychologists.

“People come to Stresa because they feel safe,” Ms. Severino said — the town is small and tight-knit, with little crime. “Obviously, for the families of the victims, Stresa will become a nefarious name,” she said. “But I hope that they will remember how the city tried to be close to them.”

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The Costly Pursuit of Self-Driving Cars Continues On. And On. And On.

It was seven years ago when Waymo discovered that spring blossoms made its self-driving cars get twitchy on the brakes. So did soap bubbles. And road flares.

New tests, in years of tests, revealed more and more distractions for the driverless cars. Their road skills improved, but matching the competence of human drivers was elusive. The cluttered roads of America, it turned out, were a daunting place for a robot.

The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.

Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the most deep pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, auto industry giants, and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.

said that fully functional self-driving cars were just two years away. More than five years later, Tesla cars offered simpler autonomy designed solely for highway driving. Even that has been tinged with controversy after several fatal crashes (which the company blamed on misuse of the technology).

Perhaps no company experienced the turbulence of driverless car development more fitfully than Uber. After poaching 40 robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon University and acquiring a self-driving truck start-up for $680 million in stock, the ride-hailing company settled a lawsuit from Waymo, which was followed by a guilty plea from a former executive accused of stealing intellectual property. A pedestrian in Arizona was also killed in a crash with one of its driverless cars. In the end, Uber essentially paid Aurora to acquire its self-driving unit.

But for the most deep-pocketed companies, the science, they hope, continues to advance one improved ride at a time. In October, Waymo reached a notable milestone: It launched the world’s first “fully autonomous” taxi service. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., anyone can now ride in a minivan with no driver behind the wheel. But that does not mean the company will immediately deploy its technology in other parts of the country.

Dmitri Dolgov, who recently took over as Waymo’s co-chief executive after the departure of John Krafcik, an automobile industry veteran, said the company considers its Arizona service a test case. Based on what it has learned in Arizona, he said, Waymo is building a new version of its self-driving technology that it will eventually deploy in other geographies and other kinds of vehicles, including long-haul trucks.

The suburbs of Phoenix are particularly well suited to driverless cars. Streets are wide, pedestrians are few and there is almost no rain or snow. Waymo supports its autonomous vehicles with remote technicians and roadside assistance crews who can help get cars out of a tight spot, either via the internet or in person.

“Autonomous vehicles can be deployed today, in certain situations,” said Elliot Katz, a former lawyer who counseled many of the big autonomous vehicle companies before launching a start-up, Phantom Auto, that provides software for remotely assisting and operating self-driving vehicles when they get stuck in difficult positions. “But you still need a human in the loop.”

Self-driving tech is not yet nimble enough to reliably handle the variety of situations human drivers encounter each day. They can usually handle suburban Phoenix, but they can’t duplicate the human chutzpah needed for merging into the Lincoln Tunnel in New York or dashing for an offramp on Highway 101 in Los Angeles.

“You have to peel back every layer before you can see the next layer” of challenges for the technology, said Nathaniel Fairfield, a Waymo software engineer who has worked on the project since 2009, in describing some of the distractions faced by the cars. “Your car has to be pretty good at driving before you can really get it into the situations where it handles the next most challenging thing.”

Like Waymo, Aurora is now developing autonomous trucks as well as passenger vehicles. No company has deployed trucks without safety drivers behind the wheel, but Mr. Urmson and others argue that autonomous trucks will make it to market faster than anything designed to transport regular consumers.

Long-haul trucking does not involve passengers who might not be forgiving of twitchy brakes. The routes are also simpler. Once you master one stretch of highway, Mr. Urmson said, it is easier to master another. But even driving down a long, relatively straight highway is extraordinarily difficult. Delivering dinner orders across a small neighborhood is an even greater challenge.

“This is one of the biggest technical challenges of our generation,” said Dave Ferguson, another early engineer on the Google team who is now president of Nuro, a company focused on delivering groceries, pizzas and other goods.

Mr. Ferguson said that many thought self-driving technology would improve like an internet service or a smartphone app. But robotics is a lot more challenging. It was wrong to claim anything else.

“If you look at almost every industry that is trying to solve really really difficult technical challenges, the folks that tend to be involved are a little bit crazy and little bit optimistic,” he said. “You need to have that optimism to get up everyday and bang your head against the wall to try to solve a problem that has never been solved, and it’s not guaranteed that it ever will be solved.”

Uber and Lyft aren’t entirely giving up on driverless cars. Even though it may not help the bottom line for a long time, they still want to deploy autonomous vehicles by partnering with the companies that are still working on the technology. Lyft now says autonomous rides could arrive by 2023.

“These cars will be able to operate on a limited set of streets under a limited set of weather conditions at certain speeds,” said Jody Kelman, the executive of Lyft. “We will very safely be able to deploy these cars, but they won’t be able to go that many places.”

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2 Climbers Die on Everest as Covid Rampages Through Nepal

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Two climbers, a Swiss-Pakistani and an American, have died on Mount Everest, the first fatalities of a busy climbing season as a second wave of the coronavirus batters Nepal.

The expedition company that organized their climbs, Seven Summit Treks, said both men were experienced mountaineers who lost consciousness around Mount Everest’s “death zone,” an area above 8,000 meters (about 26,000 feet) named for its thin air and brutal weather.

When the climbers died on Wednesday, the wind had picked up on Everest. Climbing tourists and most of the Nepalese guides who aid them turned away from the summit on Thursday as weather conditions grew more severe.

Puwei Liu, 55, an experienced climber from California, died at the first camp below the peak after making an unsuccessful summit attempt on Wednesday, according to Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a Seven Summit Treks director.

hourslong traffic jams that can occur on the overcrowded path to the peak.

Nepal’s tourism department and the agency that organized their expedition ruled out any possible link to the coronavirus that is ravaging the small Himalayan country. Instead, they blamed high-altitude sickness. However, as with many of the hundreds who have died attempting Everest, no autopsies were planned, because of the bodies’ remote locations.

“No Covid. They died of altitude sickness. Had they Covid, they wouldn’t be able to reach at that height,” said Mingma Sherpa, Seven Summit Treks’ chairman.

virus safeguards imposed before the climbing season have worked.

Off the peaks, Nepal’s health care system is under incredible strain because of a rash of new cases, mirroring the ferocity of the second wave in neighboring India.

With hospitals running out of beds, vaccine in short supply and infections rising faster than clinics can record them, Nepal’s health ministry deemed the situation “unmanageable” last week.

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Man Hangs On for Life After Winds Shatter Glass Bridge in China

A man who ventured out on a glass-bottom bridge in China’s northeast was left clinging to the side for dear life after gale-force winds blew away some floor panels, leaving gaping holes in the structure hundreds of feet above the ground, local officials said.

The episode occurred on Saturday at Piyan Mountain in Longjing, China, state media said, citing the city government. It spurred a frantic attempt to rescue the man, whom the authorities did not identify. He inched his way to safety, helped or coaxed — news accounts varied — by a rescue crew. A photo of what state media said was the moment of terror went viral.

The harrowing episode left many people in China deeply rattled, spurring discussions about what could have been a nightmarish ending and raising questions about the safety of many of the country’s glass bridges, walkways and viewing decks.

“This is exactly why I dare not step on a bridge like that,” one tourist identified as Wadetian wrote on Weibo, the Chinese social media site. “I broke out in a cold sweat just looking at it,” another user said.

Up to 1,500 people have crossed at a time, and the bridge is advertised as offering an experience akin to “hanging above a bottomless chasm.”

According to state media reports, around 12:45 p.m. Saturday, winds of up to 90 miles per hour tore through the picturesque tourist site, blowing out parts of the glass deck and trapping the man, described as a tourist.

reported, adding that the site of the accident had since been closed while inspectors checked for hazards.

new standards for building the attractions started this month.

Chris Buckley and Yan Zhuang contributed reporting. Liu Yi contributed research.

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China’s Rocket Debris Landed Near Maldives: Here’s What to Know

Debris from a large Chinese rocket landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives early Sunday morning, China’s space administration announced.

It said most of the debris had burned up on re-entry. It was not immediately clear whether any of what remained had landed on any of the Maldives’s 1,192 islands.

The possibility, however slight, that debris from the rocket could strike a populated area had led people around the world to track its trajectory for days. The administrator of NASA, Bill Nelson, issued an unusual rebuke after China’s announcement, accusing the country of “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

The rocket, a Long March 5B, launched the main module of China’s next space station, Tiangong, on April 29. Usually, the large booster stages of rockets immediately drop back to Earth after they are jettisoned, but the 23-ton core stage of the Long March 5B accompanied the space station segment all the way to orbit.

tracks the comings and goings of objects in space, said on Twitter that an ocean splashdown had always been the most likely outcome, but that the episode raised questions about how China designs its space missions.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives),” he wrote. “But it was still reckless.”

Long March 5B is China’s largest rocket, and one of the largest currently in use by any nation. The country’s space program needed a large, powerful vehicle to carry Tianhe, the main module of Tiangong, the new space station, which is to be operational by 2022 after more pieces are launched and connected in orbit.

routinely fell on rural areas downrange, occasionally causing damage. China has since moved many of its launches, including the Long March 5B’s, to a new site in Wenchang, a city on Hainan, an island off the southeastern coast.

Last year, the first launch of a Long March 5B rocket lifted a prototype of China’s crewed space capsule. The booster from that rocket also made an uncontrolled re-entry, with some debris raining down on a village in Ivory Coast.

an international legal framework based on treaties from the 1960s and ’70s in which a country can demand payment for damage caused by another country’s falling rocket.

That has happened once, after Cosmos 954, a Soviet satellite that was powered by a nuclear reactor, crashed in Canada in 1978. Canada billed the Soviet Union for part of the cost of cleaning up the radioactive debris.

In recent years, China has completed a series of impressive achievements in spaceflight. Months ago, it put a spacecraft — Tianwen-1 — in orbit around Mars, and in December it also collected rocks from the surface of the moon and brought them back to Earth.

In May or June, it hopes to further advance its Mars mission by landing a robotic rover, Zhurong, on the red planet’s surface. So far only the United States has had lasting success during attempts to land on Mars.

As it works to make steady progress on space station construction, China could also launch a crew to orbit next month in a spacecraft called Shenzhou. Once in space, they are to dock with the Tianhe module.

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Israeli Officials Had a Plan to Prevent Tragedy at Mt. Meron. It Was Ignored.

“None of this concerns me at all,” said Yehuda Leib Schreiber, 33, a full-time Torah scholar and a father of seven. “It’s all dictated from above.”

The only proper response, he said, was “to repent.”

Beitar Illit’s victims included a father of 11, Rabbi Shimon Matlon, Elazar Goldberg, 37, Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, 43, and a teenager, Shmuel Eliahu Cohen, 16. The names of the four flashed on an electronic advertising board at the entrance to the settlement.

Inside, the prevailing mood was one of collective mourning and quiet introspection. Residents said the tragedy was a divine message that called for soul-searching and self-improvement. Even when such messages were hard for mortals to understand, they said, who were they to ask questions?

“We believe the 45 were chosen by God to atone for the sins of this entire generation,” said Chavi Zaltsman, 25, a mother of two from the Hasidic Karlin sect. The sins could include idle gossip or disputes or hatred, she said, adding, “We need to love each other more, even if people are different.”

Some took comfort in the national day of mourning that the government had called on Sunday, though the more extreme ultra-Orthodox groups that do not recognize the state had no interest in state decrees.

“God came and took this boy and that man,” said Asher Suissa, 44, a caterer and friend of Rabbi Matlon’s. But he added that people were also involved, without apportioning blame.

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Mexico City’s Mayor Caught in Political Fallout After Train Crash

Their rivalry has long been a subject of speculation by pundits, and on Tuesday, two of Mexico’s brightest political stars were in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

After the deadly subway train crash in Mexico City, public anger on Tuesday turned toward the city’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, and a former mayor who is now Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard.

Both are widely seen as possible successors to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“Absolutely nothing will be hidden,” Mr. López Obrador said at a news conference on Tuesday morning. “The people of Mexico must know the whole truth.”

But even as the president spoke, the political fallout was evident at his news conference. Both Ms. Sheinbaum and Mr. Ebrard faced harsh questioning from reporters: she for the possible failure to detect faults that led to the deadly crash, and he for overseeing the construction of a subway line plagued by accusations of mismanagement and corruption.

Publicly, at least, the two political heavyweights presented a united front.

“We are in agreement to get to the bottom of this and work together to find the truth and know what caused this incident,” said Ms. Sheinbaum, who avoided blaming any government figures for the accident.

Mr. Ebrard, asked whether he feared being held ultimately responsible for the tragic accident, denied any wrongdoing and said he would cooperate with the investigation.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” he said. “Like anyone else, I am subject to whatever the authorities determine, but even more so as a high-level official, as someone who promoted the construction of the line.”

Mr. Ebrard was mayor of Mexico City from 2006 to 2012, and the subway line, known as the Golden Line, was one of the landmark projects of his administration.

The crash occurred a month before legislative elections that the governing party, known as Morena, is expected to dominate. Mr. López Obrador has a high approval rating throughout the country but is less popular in Mexico City.

Ms. Sheinbaum and Mr. Ebrard are both members of Morena, and both are vying to succeed Mr. López Obrador as president when his term ends in 2024.

Mr. López Obrador, who campaigned on improving Mexico’s infrastructure, has spearheaded ambitious public transportation projects since taking office in 2018, including nearly 1,000 miles of railway stretching across Mexico. He has sought to create a legacy through several landmark projects and, soon after taking office, stopped the construction of a half-built airport that a rival party had started to build for Mexico City.

Even though the construction was advanced and the government had spent billions of dollars on the airport, Mr. López Obrador scrapped it to build another airport at a different location, reimagining the project in his name.

Yet the president’s flashy projects have come at the expense of more urgent needs, including water infrastructure problems in a country increasingly burdened by droughts and Mexico City’s subway system, a key mode of transportation for the sprawling capital’s population of nearly 22 million.

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Israel Mourns After Stampede at Religious Festival Kills 45

JERUSALEM — Israelis mourned on Friday the loss of life when a joyous pilgrimage that drew tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews abruptly turned into a tragedy. And although the country was largely united in grief and shock, questions immediately arose about poor planning and possible negligence.

Even for a country accustomed to the trauma of wars and terrorist attacks, the deadly crush that killed 45 people during a mass religious celebration on Mount Meron in the northern Galilee region counted as one of the worst disasters in Israeli history.

There had been warnings for years that the site’s patchy infrastructure could not safely handle large crowds.

“We will conduct a thorough, serious and deep investigation to ensure such a disaster does not happen again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on a visit to the site on Friday. He called for a national day of mourning on Sunday.

Up to 100,000 people were crammed onto the mountain late Thursday, most having arrived on organized buses to celebrate the holiday. The festivities turned to horror about an hour after midnight, when scores of adults and children were crushed and suffocated in an overcrowded, narrow passageway that turned into a death trap, according to witnesses.

The crush occurred after celebrants poured out of one section of the mountainside compound down some steps and into the passageway with a sloping metal floor. Some people at the front fainted or slipped, causing a bottleneck, witnesses said, and setting off what the Hebrew news site Ynet described as a “human avalanche.”

One of the injured, Chaim Vertheimer, said that the slope was slippery from spilled water and grape juice.

“For some reason, there was sudden pressure at this point and people stopped. But more people kept coming down,” Mr. Vertheimer told Ynet, speaking from his hospital bed in the holy city of Safed. “People were not breathing. I remember hundreds of people screaming ‘I can’t breathe’.”

Another of the injured, Dvir Cohen, said that a large number of people were trying to leave at once.

“There was a staircase where the first people tripped and everyone just trampled them. I was in the second row of people,” he said. “People trampled on me, hundreds of them.”

Minutes earlier, thousands of men had been bobbing and swaying on the bleachers in time to music. The Israeli authorities had placed no restrictions on the numbers of attendees, despite warnings about the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Though the sight of so many people gathered together may be jarring to most of the world, life in Israel has returned almost to normal in recent weeks after a successful national vaccination drive. The majority of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

The annual gathering on Mount Meron, which is near the Sea of Galilee, takes place near the mystical city of Safed. The holiday, Lag b’Omer, is linked in Jewish tradition to the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in the first century A.D. and for many ultra-Orthodox Jews, it is a highlight of the Hebrew calendar.

But the celebrations were very curtailed last year because of the pandemic with few people allowed to attend.

Large numbers of ultra-Orthodox and traditional Jews make the pilgrimage to the mountain for days of festivities. They light bonfires around the grave site of a second-century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in the hope that they will receive his blessings on the anniversary of his death.

There were warnings that the infrastructure could not safely bear large crowds. However, critics say some officials may have been deterred from restricting access to the site in part because of the political power the ultra-Orthodox parties have held in successive Netanyahu-led governing coalitions.

Relations between the ultra-Orthodox community and the Israeli mainstream have come under particular strain during the pandemic as parts of the religious public flouted lockdown regulations and the government and police were often lax in enforcing them.

But in a show of national unity on Friday, Israelis across the nation lined up to donate blood for the injured in response to a call by the emergency services.

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