Massive tragedy struck Mecca with a stampede on Thursday killing 717 Haj pilgrims near the holy site in Mina. As per the reports so far, the stampede out-broke when thousands gathered at the holy site were taking part in the last major rite of the Haj – the symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing stones at the three pillars. 863 pilgrims are reported to have been injured too, the officials apprised news agencies.
14 Indian nationals too were killed in the stampede, confirmed External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. Over two million pilgrims, including more than 1.5 lakh Indians, are performing the Haj this year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has expressed his condolences on the tragedy.
“Distressing news from Mecca… Pained at loss of lives due to the stampede. Condolences to families of the deceased & prayers with the injured,” Mr. Modi wrote on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
According to the eyewitnesses, the stampede happened at the entrance of the Jamarat bridge near Street 204, and not inside of the area where the stoning pillars are.
Confirming the casualties, the Saudi civil defence authority said that 717 pilgrims from different nationalities have died in the tragedy, adding that the rescue operations were underway after the stampede in Mina. Two teams of medical screening have been set up at the site of the incident.
Detailing about the rescue efforts, the Civil Defence Authority said more than 4,000 people were taking part in rescue efforts, along with 220 ambulances. The authority also added that its teams on the ground are leading pilgrims to safer routes away from the stampede site through alternate routes.
“In my camp there were about 400 pilgrims. All of them are safe. But I am trying to make some calls and ascertain from other people,” said Abid Rasool Khan, Chairman Minorities Panel, Andhra Pradesh.
In what is already been described as one of the worst tragic incidents in nearly a decade to hit the annual pilgrimage, it is yet not clear as to what caused the stampede at such a scale.
Incidentally, the tragedy has come barely two weeks after 109 people were killed and several left wounded when a massive construction crane overlooking the holy Grand Mosque in Saudi pilgrim city of Mecca had collapsed. Two Indian nationals, residents of Kerala, too had lost their lives in the freak accident.
According to the Haj officials, the pilgrimage has been incident free for nearly a decade, mainly due to series of safety measures on the part of authorities. The last big incident happened in the year 2006, when at least 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual in Mina.
(With inputs from the PTI/Agencies)