700 Muslim pilgrims killed in stampede
More than 700 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a stampede yesterday on the outskirts of Mecca, the deadliest tragedy to strike the annual Hajj pilgrimage in more than two decades.
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 roughly two-million Muslims taking part. A crane collapse in Mecca nearly two weeks earlier left more than 100 people dead.
Yesterday's crush happened in Mina, a large valley about five kilometres (three miles) from the holy city of Mecca, which 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 towards a large structure overlooking the columns, according to the Saudi civil defence directorate.
The multi-storey structure, known as Jamarat Bridge, is designed to ease the pressure of the crowds and prevent pilgrims from being trampled.
The civil defence directorate, which disclosed the death toll, said at least 719 other pilgrims were injured in the stampede.
Ambulance sirens blared as rescue crews rushed the injured to nearby hospitals.
More than 220 rescue vehicles and some 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.
Scores of bodies
Amateur video footage 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 sun-baked 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.
Photos 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.
Some two-million people are taking part in this year's Hajj pilgrimage, 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 this year to oversee crowd management and ensure pilgrims' safety during the five-day pilgrimage.