Indian and Pakistani authorities say the death toll from last week’s stampede near the Muslim holy city of Mecca has climbed to 1,100. At least 863 pilgrims were injured in the crush.
An estimated 2 million people are undertaking the traditional hajj pilgrimage. Reuters, citing Saudi state television, reported that the stampede took place in Mina, a tent city located approximately three miles east of Mecca itself. The area is on the main road from the center of Mecca to the Hill of Arafat, revered by Muslims as the place where Muhammad gave his farewell sermon to Muslims who had accompanied him to Mecca near the end of his life.
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 2 million Muslims taking part in the pilgrimage. A crane collapse in Mecca nearly two weeks earlier left 111 people dead.
Photos released by the Saudi civil defense directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers in orange and yellow vests helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the white tents.
Many of the victims were crushed and trampled to death as they were on their way to perform a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns in Mina.
Two survivors interviewed by The Associated Press said the disaster began when one wave of pilgrims found themselves heading into a mass of people going in another direction.
“I saw someone trip over someone in a wheelchair and several people tripping over him. People were climbing over one another just to breathe,” said one of the survivors, Abdullah Lotfy, 44, from Egypt. “It was like a wave. You go forward and suddenly you go back.”
Lotfy said that having two flows of pilgrims interacting in this way should never have happened. “There was no preparation. What happened was more than they were ready for,” he said of the Saudi authorities.
UPDATE: The death toll according to some Middle East sources is now beyond 1,300 with
an additional 1,185 hundreds STILL listed as missing.
UPDATE 2: The Iranians are pissed, but they might have some valid points to, so there will be some fallout over this incident. Expect some Shia on Sunni violence, well, more than usual.