Saudi Arabian authorities yesterday were investigating a construction crane collapse that killed at least 107 people during a storm at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, pledging that the annual hajj pilgrimage would go ahead.
Nearly 200 others were hurt and panic broke out as the massive crane crashed down on the mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, as worshipers gathered for weekly Friday prayers.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have already arrived in Mecca for the hajj, one of the world’s largest religious festivals, which last year drew 2 million worshipers.
A Saudi official said this year’s hajj would proceed despite the tragedy.
“It definitely will not affect the hajj this season and the affected part will probably be fixed in a few days,” said the official, who declined to be named.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-populated nation, said two of its nationals were killed, while Malaysia and Iran said its citizens were among those injured.
As world leaders offered condolences, Mecca region Governor Prince Khalid al-Faisal ordered an investigation into the incident.
Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he works at the mosque, told reporters he saw the massive construction crane fall after being hit by the storm.
“If it weren’t for al-Tawaf bridge, the injuries and deaths would have been worse,” he said, referring to a covered walkway that surrounds the holy Kaaba, which broke the crane’s fall.
The Kaaba is a massive cube-shaped structure at the center of the mosque, toward which Muslims worldwide pray.
Local journalist Kamal Idris told reporters that Saudis and foreigners lined up on Friday night to give blood in response to the tragedy.
Outside one hospital, more than 100 people waited in the street for their turn to donate, Idris said.
Pictures of the incident on Twitter showed bloodied bodies strewn across a courtyard where the top part of the crane, which appeared to have bent or snapped, had crashed into the building, which is several stories high.
A video on YouTube showed people screaming and running around after a massive crash was heard.
The wreckage of the red-and-white crane was seen lying across the floor of the mosque, where chunks of the floor had been gouged out.
Several other still cranes tower over the site.
On Fridays, the Muslim weekly day of prayer, the Grand Mosque is usually at its most crowded.
Many faithful would have been gathered there ahead of evening Maghrib prayers, which occurred about an hour after the tragedy.
Ahmed bin Mohammad al-Mansoori, spokesman for the two holy mosques, was quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency as saying part of a crane collapsed at 5:10pm “as a result of strong winds and heavy rains.”
More rain and strong winds were forecast for yesterday, the agency said.
Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation cofounder Irfan al-Alawi compared the carnage with that caused by a bomb.
He suggested authorities were negligent by having a series of cranes overlooking the mosque.
“They do not care about the heritage, and they do not care about health and safety,” he told reporters.
Al-Alawi is an outspoken critic of redevelopment at the holy sites, which he says is wiping away tangible links to the Prophet Mohammed.
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