220 killed in Haj stampede, one Indian injured

Riyadh, Sep 24 (IANS) At least 220 people were killed on Thursday in a stampede during the Haj pilgrimage in the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mina near Makkah, authorities said. One Indian pilgrim was injured.

As many as 450 people were injured in the tragedy, about five kilometres from Makkah, the Saudi Civil Defence authorities said.

“The number of cases rising to 450 wounded and 220 deaths,” said a tweet in Arabic from the official account of the Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense.

More than 4,000 rescue workers and over 200 emergency vehicles were at the scene, Saudi officials said.

A Haj pilgrim from Lakshadweep was among the injured, Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told the media in Thiruvananthapuram.

Photographs posted on the Saudi Civil Defence Twitter handle showed victims lying on stretchers, surrounded by rescue workers.

BBC reported that rescue operations were on. The stampede occurred on the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice.

TV visuals showed rescuers taking away the injured, some in wheel chairs. Many of the injured had suffered bruises and lacerations on their bodies.

The injured cried out in agony as survivors tried to help the wounded pilgrims.

About two million Muslims are taking part in this year’s Haj pilgrimage, which began on Tuesday. Some 136,020 pilgrims are from India.

The stampede took place barely two weeks after a massive crane fell in Makkah’s grand mosque, killing over 100 people and injuring over 200. Eleven of the dead in the September 11 tragedy were Indians.

The worst Haj tragedy took place in 1990 when 1,400 people were killed in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel.

There were conflicting reports on where Thursday’s stampede took place.

Xinhua cited the Saudi Civil Defense as saying that the incident happened amid a rush of the stoning as part of Haj rituals. Muslim pilgrims throw stones on a wall representing devil.

Al Jazeera, however, said the deaths took place on a street between pilgrim camps.

“The street is named Street 204. This stampede did not happen during the stoning of the devil ritual,” an Al Jazeera correspondent said.

In India, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah mourned the deaths of Haj pilgrims.

“Tragic news coming out of Mecca,” the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister tweeted. “Prayers with the injured and with the loved ones of the deceased.”

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