Fri, Sep 25, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Hundreds killed in hajj stampede in Saudi Arabia

MINA CRUSH:More than 220 rescue vehicles and about 4,000 emergency personnel were deployed after the incident, which injured at least 863 pilgrims

AP, MINA, Saudi Arabia

Ambulances yesterday arrive at an emergency hospital in Mina, Saudi Arabia, with pilgrims who were injured in a stampede.

Photo: AFP

A horrific stampede yesterday killed at least 717 pilgrims and injured hundreds on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the deadliest tragedy to strike the annual hajj pilgrimage in more than two decades.

At least 863 pilgrims were injured in the crush, the Saudi Civil Defense Directorate said.

The tragedy struck as Muslims around the world marked the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

It was the second major disaster during this year’s hajj season, raising questions about the adequacy of measures put in place by Saudi authorities to ensure the safety of the about 2 million Muslims taking part.

A crane collapse in Mecca nearly two weeks ago left more than 100 people dead.

Yesterday’s crush happened in Mina, a large valley about 5km from the holy city of Mecca that has been the site of hajj stampedes in years past.

Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns. It also houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

The stampede occurred in a morning surge of pilgrims at the intersection of streets 204 and 223 as the faithful were making their way toward a large structure overlooking the columns, according to the defense directorate.

The multi-story structure, known as Jamarat Bridge, is designed to ease the pressure of the crowds and prevent pilgrims from being trampled.

Ambulance sirens blared as rescue crews rushed the injured to nearby hospitals. More than 220 rescue vehicles and about 4,000 members of the emergency services were deployed soon after the stampede to try to ease the congestion and provide alternative exit routes, according to the directorate.

Amateur video shared on social media 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.

Photographs released by the directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the tents.

About 2 million people are taking part in this year’s hajj, which is an obligation of every able-bodied Muslim. The pilgrimage began in earnest on Tuesday.

Saudi authorities take extensive precautions to ensure the security of the hajj and the safety of pilgrims. There are about 100,000 security forces deployed to oversee crowd management and ensure safety during the five-day pilgrimage.

At Mina specifically, authorities have put measures in place over the years to try to alleviate the pressure posed by masses of pilgrims converging on the site of the stoning ritual.

Officials use surveillance cameras and other equipment to limit the number of people converging on the site, and the Jamarat Bridge has multiple exits to facilitate the flow of people.

The deadliest hajj-related tragedy happened in 1990, when at least 1,426 pilgrims perished in a stampede in a tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.

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