Hajj Stampede: At Least 717 People Die In Mecca Crush
At least 717 people have died and hundreds more are injured after a stampede on the edge of Mecca, Saudi authorities say.
Civil defence officials said more than 800 were also injured in the crush at Mina, on the outskirts of the Muslim holy city, where some two million people are at the annual pilgrimage, called the Hajj.
Some 4,000 rescue workers and 220 ambulances are involved in the emergency operation, officials said.
Pictures on social media showed a devastating scene, with dozens of bodies lying among water bottles and crushed wheelchairs.
Mina is where pilgrims go to carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against stone walls.
Witnesses said the stampede happened on Street 204, one of the main roads leading through the camp set up for pilgrims to get to the three stone walls, known as Jamarat.
More than 160,000 tents are set up in the area.
A statement from the Saudi embassy in London said: “Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki told reporters that the initial investigations of the incident indicated that two pathways, one of which is Street 204, converged at the same time.
“The majority of Thursday’s victims descended onto a pathway toward Jamarat during a time that was not allocated to them.”
Fadi Itani, the director of Islamic Relief, who is in Mecca for the Hajj, told Sky News: “Since the morning there have been hundreds of ambulances. I’ve never seen something like this before.
“I haven’t such a huge number of air ambulances continuously arriving and departing.”
The embassy said it was still unclear if any British nationals were among the deceased or injured.
The deaths come on the first day of Eid, traditionally the most hazardous day of the Hajj because so many people are trying to perform rituals at the same time.
It also comes less than two weeks after a giant crane crashed down on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the site which is the focal point for the pilgrimage.
At least 111 people died then and more than 390 were injured.
The last time so many people died at the Hajj was in 2006 when at least 346 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in the same area. This disaster was the worst since July 1990 when around 1,400 pilgrims suffocated in a tunnel near Mecca.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered a review of the country’s plan for the Hajj and said he wanted a swift investigation into what had happened.
It is seen as a religious duty for able-bodied Muslims to complete the Hajj at least once in their lifetime and take part in the rituals intended to cleanse their souls and promote the brotherhood and sisterhood of Islam.
David Cameron has tweeted: “My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed at the Hajj pilgrimage.”
Courtesy of Sky News