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More than 700 killed in Saudi haj crush

CRUSHED: Saudi rescuers tending to pilgrims injured in a crush caused by large crowds pushing at Mina, outside Mecca yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS


    Sep 25, 2015

    More than 700 killed in Saudi haj crush


    AT LEAST 717 pilgrims were killed yesterday in a crush at Mina, outside Saudi Arabia's Muslim holy city of Mecca, where some two million people are performing the annual haj pilgrimage, the Saudi authorities said.

    There have been no reports of Singaporean casualties. The Consulate-General in Jeddah has confirmed that all Singaporean pilgrims are safe and accounted for, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

    At least 805 others were injured in the crush, which occurred when two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads on Street 204 at the camp city at Mina, 5 km east of Mecca, the Saudi civil defence said.

    Street 204 is one of the two main arteries leading through Mina to the Jamarat Bridge, where pilgrims throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, the ritual that marks the last day of the haj.

    Reuters reporters said they could hear police and ambulance sirens in Mina following the disaster, but that roads leading to the site of the stampede were blocked.

    Unverified video posted on Twitter showed bodies, clad in the white towelling of those undertaking haj, lying on the ground by the side of the road, surrounded by debris, as pilgrims and rescue workers attempted to revive them.

    A Twitter account said more than 220 ambulances and 4,000 rescue workers were sent to help the injured.

    "Work is underway to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes," the Saudi Civil Defence said.

    Before the stampede, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had converged on Jamarat, which, at 1 km long, allows 300,000 pilgrims an hour to carry out the ritual, said witnesses.

    An Arab pilgrim, who did not want to give his name, said that he had hoped to perform the stoning ritual yesterday afternoon but was too frightened to risk doing so after the stampede.

    "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.

    The pilgrimage had often been marred by stampedes and fires, but for nealry a decade it had been largely incident-free following safety improvements.

    Jamarat was the site of the 2006 disaster, in which 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede, and several other past incidents.

    Two weeks ago, 110 people died in Mecca's Grand Mosque when a crane working on an expansion project collapsed during a storm, crushing pilgrims underneath.

    This year, more than 100,000 police and thousands of video cameras are deployed to direct the crowds to disperse before the numbers reach dangerous levels of density.

    It was not immediately clear if the stoning ritual at Mina would continue as planned until tomorrow after the stampede, reported the Agence France-Presse.

    The world's 1.5 billion Muslims yesterday marked Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday of the Islamic calendar.