Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Saudis call off hunt for more survivors

HAJJ PILGRIM DISASTER Authorities confirmed that 76 people were killed and a further 62 injured when a packed hostel in Mecca collapsed on Thursday


Saudi authorities have given up the hunt for survivors from the collapse of a hostel in the holy city of Mecca that killed 76 pilgrims, the latest tragedy to strike the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was due to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the disaster yesterday, on the eve of the start of the annual pilgrimage to Islam's holiest site.

Ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said 76 people were killed and 62 others wounded when the aging and overcrowded multistorey building collapsed on Thursday.

He said the dead consisted of 48 men and 28 women.

"Saudis, French nationals of Arab origin and Yemenis are among the dead," he said, adding that 40 bodies had yet to be identified.

Jordan said five of its nationals were missing, while officials in France said seven Algerians living in France were among those who died.

The United Arab Emirates announced the death of three nationals, while two remain missing.

Forty-one survivors were pulled from the rubble during the recovery operation, Turki told reporters.

Emergency teams armed with sound-detecting gear worked frantically since Thursday to try to locate survivors in the wreckage of the building, which an official charged was overcrowded.

"Through our inspection of the site ... there was a clear indication that the building was overloaded," regional civil defense director General Adel Zamzami said on Thursday.

Turki also cast doubt on the soundness of the structure, claiming that some additions to the Luluat Al-Kheir (Pearl of Grace) hotel might have been made illegally.

Survivors recounted the horror of the tragedy as they lay in the city's hospitals.

"I heard one big noise," Tayeb Mizasha, 70, an Algerian living in France, said as he lay in bed in Mecca's King Faisal hospital with broken ribs and a bruised face. "At first I thought it was an earthquake."

He said he was staying at the same hostel with 16 Algerians who had come from France to perform the hajj.

"I do not know where my wife is," Mizasha said.

In another hospital ward in Mecca, a Yemeni who worked in a clothing store on the ground floor of the building said four of his Yemeni co-workers lost their lives.

"I just found myself across the street from the building and I looked up and it was a pile of rubble," said Ali Qasim al-Rimi, 35.

"I do not know if I fled or someone pulled me out," he said.

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