- Hundreds of pilgrims die in stampede in Mina, near Makkah
Srinagar: Days after a crane collapse killed 107 people and injured more than 200 others in Makkah’s Grand Mosque, Thursday was a day of even greater tragedy with at least 717 (at the time of going to press) people killed with 863 others injured in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city, during the Haj pilgrimage. This was the day of the last major ritual in the Hajj, with an estimated 2 million pilgrims taking part.
Given the scale of the incident, the death toll is expected to rise even further. Reports said the place where the incident took place is a street called Street 204, not at the site of the symbolic ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual, which was taking place, and which apparently continued even after the incident.
Hajj authorities in Kashmir, late on Thursday evening, told Kashmir Reader that no reports of any Kashmiri pilgrim being killed or injured had been received so far.
This devastating tragedy struck even as observers said the area had been turned into a huge construction site in an attempt by Saudi authorities to accommodate more pilgrims. This is the deadliest incident to occur during the Hajj in 25 years, even though deaths in stampedes have been occurring.
Mina is a valley about 5km from Makkah where pilgrims throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, representing the devil. The pillars stand at spots where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.
Media outlets said Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV had reported that the head of the central Hajj committee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, blamed the stampede on “some pilgrims with African nationalities”. Others blamed the Saudi authorities for closing off two paths close to the site of the incident, resulting in a build-up of pilgrims.
The wounded were taken to hospitals by more than 220 rescue vehicles. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who headed an emergency meeting after the stampede, has ordered an investigation. On his part, the Saudi health minister, Khaled al-Falih, said the crush occurred because many pilgrims moved “without respecting the timetables” established by authorities.
An eyewitness, quoted by a leading Arab media outlet said that, “People were going towards the direction of throwing the stones while others were coming from the opposite direction. Then it became chaotic and suddenly people started going down. There were Nigerians, Nigeriens, Chadians and Senegalese among other nationals. People were just climbing on top of others in order to move to a safer place and that’s how some people died. People were chanting Allah’s name while others were crying, including children and infants. People fell on the ground seeking help but there was no-one to give them a helping hand. Everybody seemed to be on their own”.
The Saudi civil defence directorate said in a statement that the stampede occurred at around 09:00 local time at the junction of Street 204 and Street 223. The incident, according to them, happened when there was a “sudden increase” in the number of pilgrims heading towards the pillars. This “resulted in a stampede among the pilgrims and the collapse of a large number of them,” the statement said.
The Saudi authorities have spent billions of dollars on improving transport and other infrastructure in the area in an attempt to try to prevent such incidents. Yet, this colossal tragedy is bound to raise questions on the management of the pilgrimage.
2006: 364 pilgrims died in a crush at the Jamarat Bridge in Mina
2006: Just before the Hajj began, an eight-story building being used as a hostel near the Grand Mosque in Mecca collapsed, killing at least 73 people
2004: A crush at Mina killed 244 and injured hundreds
2001: A stampede at Mina killed 35 people
1997: 340 pilgrims killed in a fire at Mina’s tent city
1994: 270 pilgrims die in a stampede during the stoning ritual
1990: 1,426 pilgrims, mainly Asian, die in a stampede in an overcrowded tunnel leading to holy sites
Year No. of foreign pilgrims
Source: Saudi Central Department of Statistics and Information