Indian woman among 717 dead in Haj tragedy, 805 injured (Fourth Lead)

Riyadh, Sep 24 (IANS) At least 717 pilgrims, including an Indian woman, were killed, while another Indian was among the 805 injured in a horrific stampede during the Haj pilgrimage in the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mina on Thursday.

The number of injured has risen to 805 and 717 have died, said a tweet in Arabic from the official account of the Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense.

As many as 805 people were injured in the tragedy, about five kilometres from Makkah, the Saudi Civil Defence authorities said.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the stampede, the first in the last nine years. The tragedy took place less than two weeks after a massive crane fell in the grand mosque at Makkah, killing over 100 and injuring more than 200 people.

More than 4,000 rescue workers and over 200 emergency vehicles worked feverishly to help the wounded.

A woman from Telangana was among the Haj pilgrims killed, an official of the Telangana State Haj Committee said in Hyderabad. Another Indian from Lakshadweep was among the injured, Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala told the media in India.

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 at the stoning as part of Haj rituals. Muslim pilgrims throw stones on a wall representing the 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 the 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.”

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal mourned the deaths and said: “Terrible tragedy. Prayers for all.”

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