MAKKAH: A massive construction crane crashed into Makkah’s Grand Mosque in stormy weather Friday, killing at least 87 people and injuring 184, Saudi authorities said, less than a fortnight before the Haj pilgrimage starts.
The civil defence authority 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 Makkah was “witnessing medium to heavy rains,” with pictures circulating on social media showing lightning.
General Suleiman al-Amr, director general of the Civil Defence Authority, told al-Ikhbariya television 183 people were injured.
“All those who were wounded and the dead have been taken to hospital. There are no casualties left at the location,” he added. Strong wind and rains had uprooted trees and affected cranes in the area, he said.
A statement by a spokesman for the administration of the mosques in Makkah and Madina said the crane smashed into the part of the Grand Mosque where worshippers circumambulate the Kaaba and where pilgrims walk between Mount Safa and Marwa.
Few details were immediately available but pictures circulating on social media showed bloodied bodies strewn across part of the mosque where the crane was seen having crashed into the ceiling.
The incident occurred as hundreds of thousands of Muslims gather from all over the world for the annual Haj pilgrimage set to begin later this month.
The civil defence authority announced the collapse and a series of rising casualty numbers on its official Twitter account. It said 184 people were wounded in the accident.
The nationalities of those killed have not been ascertained as of now.
Videos and photos posted by social media users showed a grisly scene, with police and onlookers attending to multiple bloodied bodies on the polished mosque floors.
Pan-satellite Al-Jazeera Television broadcast footage from inside the mosque compound said to be from the aftermath of the accident, showing the floor strewn with rubble and what appear to be pools of blood.
Another video, on a Twitter posting, captured the apparent moment of the crane’s collapse during a heavy rainstorm, with a loud boom, screams and confusion.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed deep condolences on the sad demise of pilgrims due to the incident. He prayed for eternal peace of the departed souls and commiserated with the bereaved families and the government of Saudia Arabia.
Nawaz Sharif has directed Pakistan’s ambassador in Saudia Arabia to provide every possible help to the injured and to personally visit patients in hospitals on behalf of the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
The pilgrimage, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, has been prone to disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rushed to complete rituals and return home. Hundreds of pilgrims died in such a stampede in 2006.
Saudi authorities have since lavished vast sums to expand the main Haj sites and improve Makkah’s transportation system, in an effort to prevent more disasters.
Security services often ring Islam’s sacred city with checkpoints and other measures to prevent people arriving for the pilgrimage without authorisation.
Those procedures, aimed at reducing crowd pressure which can lead to stampedes, fires and other hazards, have been intensified in recent years as security threats grow throughout the Middle East.
At least 87 people died and 184 more were injured when a crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque of Mecca ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the Saudi Interior Ministry said on Friday.
The Kingdom’s General Directorate of Civil Defense blamed the accident on severe storms, according to its official Twitter.
The governor of the Makkah region, the capital of which is Mecca, Khalid al-Faisal has ordered the launch of an investigation into the causes of the accident.
The tragedy comes ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage which is due later this month. Millions of Muslims from around the world will converge on the holy city between September 21-26.
Photos taken from the scene and posted on social media show bodies lying in blood on the mosque’s floor surrounded by construction rubble and metal parts of the crane.
The project to expand the mosque was launched in 2011 by late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Earlier in 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz added five construction projects as part of the mosque’s expansion aiming to accommodate more than 1.6 million worshippers.
The projects cover 1.47 million square meters and include the construction of 78 new gates at ground level, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The project and is being carried out by the Saudi Binladin Group at an estimated cost of US$26.6 billion, according to local press.
The Grand Mosque, or Sacred Mosque, surrounds the Kaaba – the most sacred site in Islam. The cuboid structure made of granite located in the mosque’s center is often called the House of Allah.
The Kaaba is the place of the Hajj – the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the five Pillars of Islam. It is mandatory of all Muslims physically and financially capable to carry out the journey at least once in a lifetime. The period of Hajj in Mecca is considered to be one of the largest gatherings of people in the world.
There have previously been fatal events during the Hajj period in Mecca, mostly due to the overflow of pilgrims at Islam’s holiest site. Among the latest was a stampede on the last day of the Hajj in 2006, which killed at least 346 people and injured at least 289 more. Other fatal incidents have been due to a bomb explosion, protests, fires, traffic incidents and diseases, including MERS.
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