At least 717 ‘pilgrims’ have been crushed to death and more than 800 hurt in a stampede of pilgrims in one of the worst incidents in years to hit the Muslim Hajj in Saudi Arabia. And this happened just 2 weeks after a crane collapse killed 109 there.
Saudi Arabia has been widely condemned, even in the Arab world, for refusing to take in any of the Muslim refugees fleeing Syria, despite having huge air-conditioned tents with kitchens and plumbing that are used to accommodate more than 3 million people for the Hajj. Looks like they’ll have room for 717 more now.
UK Daily Mail Saudi Arabia’s civil defence service said rescue operations were under way after the stampede in Mina, where almost two million pilgrims were taking part in the last major rite of the Hajj.
Pictures showed a horrific scene, with scores of bodies – the men dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during Hajj – lying amid crushed wheelchairs and water bottles along a sunbaked street.
Survivors assessed the scene from the top of roadside stalls near white tents as rescue workers in orange and yellow vests combed the area, placing victims on stretchers and desperately trying to resuscitate others. The disaster comes just two weeks after a construction crane collapsed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site, killing 109 people.
Pilgrims had converged on Mina just outside Mecca on Thursday to throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, the symbolic ‘stoning of the devil’ that marks the last day of the event.
The civil defence service said that it was still counting the dead, who included pilgrims from different countries and that at least 863 people had also been hurt. Iran said at least 43 of its citizens were dead and accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors that caused the accident.
But a Saudi minister blamed the pilgrims themselves, saying they had not followed the rules laid out by authorities.
‘Many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables’ set for the Hajj, Health Minister Khaled al-Falih told El-Ekhbariya television.
‘If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided,’ he said, vowing a ‘rapid and transparent’ investigation.
The stampede began at around 9am (6am GMT), shortly after the civil defence service said on Twitter it was dealing with a ‘crowding’ incident in Mina, about three miles from Mecca.
A Sudanese pilgrim in Mina said this year’s Hajj was the most poorly organised of four he had attended. ‘People were already dehydrated and fainting’ before the stampede, said the pilgrim.
In the past, the pilgrimage was for years marred by stampedes and fires, but it had been largely incident-free for nearly a decade following safety improvements. In January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.
Thursday’s ritual was taking place at a five-storey structure known as the Jamarat Bridge, which cost more than $1billion to build and was used during earlier pilgrimages.
Almost one kilometre long, it resembles a parking garage and allows 300,000 pilgrims an hour to carry out the ritual.
The faithful had gathered until dawn Thursday at nearby Muzdalifah where they chose their pebbles and stored them in empty water bottles.
Yesterday, they had spent a day of prayer on a vast Saudi plain and Mount Arafat, a rocky hill about 10 kilometres from Mina, for the peak of the Hajj pilgrimage.
The flow of exhausted pilgrims was so big that Saudi security forces had to form a human chain along the roads of the vast Arafat plain while a jets of water were sprayed on the huge crowds to keep them cool amid searing heat.