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107 Pilgrims Die in Crane Crash at Mecca Grand Mosque

107  Pilgrims Die in Crane  Crash at Mecca Grand Mosque107  Pilgrims Die in Crane  Crash at Mecca Grand Mosque

At least 107 people and 238 injured when a massive construction crane crashed in the Grand Mosque in Mecca in stormy weather on Friday evening, Saudi authorities said.

Among those killed was an Iranian pilgrim. Among the 32 Iranian pilgrims injured, 25 were discharged from hospital, Head of Pilgrimage and Endowment Organization Saeed Ohadi told IRNA.

The remaining six have been hospitalized in two Saudi hospitals.

Head of Iran’s Red Crescent Society Amir Mohsen Ziaee said on Saturday that most of the injured had suffered minor injuries and were treated at the Iranian Hospital.

Iran’s Health Ministry has expressed readiness to send a medical team to help treat the injured.

The tragedy occurred as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered from all over the world for the annual hajj pilgrimage expected to begin on September 21.

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, emir of Mecca and advisor to the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, has ordered an investigation into the incident, the Saudi Gazette reported.

The nationalities of the dead and injured pilgrims are yet to be announced. But authorities said most of the dead are from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ahmad Al-Mansouri, spokesman of the presidency for the affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, said the tragedy occurred at 5.10 pm due to strong winds and heavy rain, causing a part of the crane to smash into the part of the Grand Mosque where worshippers circumambulate the Holy Kaaba (mataf) and where pilgrims walk between Mount Safa and Marwa (mas’a).

Gen. Suleiman Al-Amr, director general of the Civil Defense Authority, told Al-Ikhbariya television that strong wind and rains had uprooted trees and affected cranes in the area.

The health authorities in Mecca had declared red alert at all hospitals in the city. The Civil Defense authorities said on Twitter that emergency teams were sent to the scene after a crane fell at the Grand Mosque. That came about an hour after it tweeted that Mecca was “witnessing medium to heavy rains,” with pictures circulating on social media showing lightning. Pictures of the incident on Twitter showed bloodied bodies strewn across a courtyard where the top part of the crane, which appeared to have bent or snapped, had crashed into the mosque structure.

A video on YouTube showed people screaming and scurrying around right after a massive crash was heard and as fog engulfed the city. The crashed crane is regarded as one of the largest cranes used in the Middle East region.

The largest ever expansion in the history of the Grand Mosque is in its final phase when the accident occurred. The project will expand the area of the mosque by 400,000 sq m allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people. All the finished parts of the ‘mataf’ were opened for pilgrims for Friday prayers on the day of the accident.

Meanwhile, Saudi Binladin Group, which is implementing the Haram expansion project, announced halting of all the construction works. Muhammad Muneeb Agha, deputy executive director general, said that the last working day at the project site was Thursday, September 10. “As per the directive from Nawaf Bakr Binladin, only those works such as cleaning, removal of debris, and emergency and safety works would continue at the expansion site,” he said.

 Strong Rainstorm

Saudi officials have not released a breakdown of the nationalities of the casualties, reports CNN.

“We just washed and were getting ready to head to the Masjid al-Haram for the Maghrib prayer (sunset prayer),” said Yahya Al Hashemi, 30, a CNN iReporter who shot iPhone video of the crane striking the roof of the mosque.

“It was a sandstorm which turned to rainstorm and lot of the construction covering boards were flying around, and lots of cracking noises which unfortunately ended with this tragedy. Everybody was pushing trying to escape from inside towards the exits,” Al Hashemi said.

The storm was so strong, it uprooted trees and broke windows throughout Mecca, said Khaled Al-Maeena, editor at the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah.

The crane fell at a time when there was a lull in visitors at the mosque, he said.

“Had it happened five or four hours earlier, I think the death toll would have been more than a thousand.

 Earlier Tragedies

Tragedy has hit the Grand Mosque before, often because of the crush of people in Mecca for the hajj.

In 2006, a stampede killed at least 363 people. As with previous incidents, it happened during a religious ritual in which the pilgrims stone a symbolic devil.

Hundreds were killed in other stampedes in 2004 and 1998, and 1,426 died in 1990.

Islam requires every Muslim who is physically and financially able to make the journey to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Hajj occurs two months and 10 days after Ramadan ends, during the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah.

Nearly 800,000 pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia by this week for the pilgrimage.

Financialtribune.com