Mecca stampede: At least 717 killed and hundreds injured in crush during hajj
At least 805 people have been hurt in a stampede in Saudi Arabia during the pilgrimage in the deadliest incident in 25 years which the health minister blamed on unruly pilgrims. At least 717 pilgrims killed
At least 805 people have been hurt in a stampede in Saudi Arabia during the pilgrimage in the deadliest incident in 25 years which the health minister blamed on unruly pilgrims.
At least 717 pilgrims killed on Eid al-Adha
• At least 805 injured outside the holy city of Mecca
• Two million people perform the Hajj pilgrimage
• Thursday is also the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha
• Saudi health minister blames undisciplined pilgrims
• Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of safety errors after 43 citizens die
At least 717 pilgrims were killed on Thursday in a stampede outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi authorities said, the worst disaster to strike the annual hajj pilgrimage in 25 years.
At least 805 others were injured in the crush at Mina, a few miles east of Mecca, caused by two large groups of pilgrims arriving together at a crossroads on their way to performing the “stoning the devil” ritual at Jamarat, Saudi civil defence said.
Thursday’s disaster was the worst to befall the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a tunnel near Mecca. Both stampedes occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam’s most important feast and the day of the stoning ritual.
The country’s health minister blamed undisciplined pilgrims for the incident, saying the tragedy would not have occurred if they “had followed instructions”.
Khaled al-Falih was quoted by El-Ekhbariya television as saying “many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables” established by authorities, which was the “principal reason for this type of accident”.
“If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.
A hospital official told AFP the incident happened outside the Jamarat Bridge structure. A group of pilgrims leaving the area collided with another group that was either moving in the opposite direction or camped outside, the official said.
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 who declined to be named.
People “were tripping all over each other”, he said, adding that a Saudi companion had warned him that “something was going to happen”.
Photographs published on the Twitter feed of the Saudi civil defence on Thursday showed pilgrims lying on stretchers while emergency workers in high-visibility jackets lifted them into an ambulance.
The hajj, one of the world’s largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots in the past, but their frequency was greatly reduced in recent years as the government spent billions of pounds upgrading and expanding hajj infrastructure and crowd control technology.
Safety during hajj is a politically sensitive issue for the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.
More than 25,000 Britons go annually for the hajj, according to the British Hajj Delegation. The organisation said on its website that the UK was the first Western non-Muslim country to send a hajj delegation to assist UK citizens.
The Foreign Office said in a statement it was looking into reports. A spokesman said: “We are in contact with local authorities and urgently seeking more information following reports of a crush during the Hajj pilgrimage at Mecca.”
Unverified video posted on Twitter showed bodies, clad in the white towelling of those undertaking hajj, lying on the ground by the side of the road, surrounded by debris, as pilgrims and rescue workers attempted to revive them.
Street 204, where the stampede occurred, is one of the two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, the site where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars. In 2006, at least 346 pilgrims died in a stampede at Jamarat.
Reuters reporters in another part of Mina said they could hear police and ambulance sirens, but that roads leading to the site of the disaster had been blocked.
“Work is underway to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes,” the Saudi Civil Defence said on its Twitter account.
It said more than 220 ambulances and 4,000 rescue workers had been sent to the stampede’s location to help the injured. Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television channel showed a convoy of ambulances driving through the Mina camp. Some of the wounded were evacuated by helicopters.
Iran accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors after at least 43 of its citizens died.
Said Ohadi, head of Iran’s hajj organisation said that for “unknown reasons” a path had been closed off near the scene of the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual where the accident later took place.
“This caused this tragic incident,” he said on Iranian state television.
An Arab pilgrim who did not want to give his name said he had hoped to perform the stoning ritual later on Thursday afternoon but was now too frightened to risk doing so.
“I am very tired already and after this I can’t go. I will wait for the night and if it is not resolved, I will see if maybe somebody else can do it on my behalf,” he said.
Efforts to improve safety at Jamarat have included enlarging the three pillars and constructing a three-decker bridge around them to increase the area and number of entry and exit points for pilgrims to perform the ritual.