Mecca Grand Mosque crane collapse death toll rises to 107, Haj to go ahead
Saudi authorities said on Saturday the annual Haj pilgrimage would go ahead despite a crane collapse that killed 107 people at Mecca's Grand Mosque, where crowds returned to pray a day after the disaster.
Mecca: Saudi authorities said on Saturday the annual Haj pilgrimage would go ahead despite a crane collapse that killed 107 people at Mecca's Grand Mosque, where crowds returned to pray a day after the disaster.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have already arrived in Mecca for the haj, one of the world's largest religious gatherings which last year drew two million worshippers.
Parts of the Grand Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, remained sealed off Saturday around the remains of the red and white crane, accentuating the crush of humanity inside.
Worshippers thronged the mosque as the midday call to prayer sounded, according to an AFP reporter.
Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when the crane collapsed during a storm on what is the main weekly prayer day for Muslims. Around 200 others were injured.
A Saudi official said this year's haj, expected to start on September 21, would proceed despite the tragedy.
"It definitely will not affect the haj this season and the affected part will probably be fixed in a few days," said the official, who declined to be named.
As world leaders offered condolences, the governor of Mecca region, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, ordered an investigation into the incident.
Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he works at the mosque, told AFP he saw the massive construction crane fall after being hit by the storm.
"If it weren't for Al-Tawaf bridge the injuries and deaths would have been worse," he said, referring to a covered walkway that surrounds the holy Kaaba, which broke the crane's fall.
The Kaaba is a massive cube-shaped structure at the centre of the mosque towards which Muslims worldwide pray.
Saudis and foreigners lined up on Friday night to give blood in response to the tragedy.
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Outside one hospital, more than 100 people waited in the street for their turn to donate.
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 building which is several storeys high.
A video on YouTube showed people screaming and rushing around right after a massive crash was heard.
Many faithful would have been gathered there ahead of evening maghrib prayers, which occurred about an hour after the tragedy.
Ahmed bin Mohammad al-Mansoori, spokesman for the two holy mosques, was quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency as saying part of a crane collapsed at 5.10pm (1410 GMT) "as a result of strong winds and heavy rains".
More rain and strong winds were forecast for Saturday, the agency said.
Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, compared the carnage to that caused by a bomb.
He suggested authorities were negligent by having a series of cranes overlooking the mosque.
"They do not care about the heritage, and they do not care about health and safety," he told AFP.
Alawi is an outspoken critic of redevelopment at the holy sites, which he says is wiping away tangible links to the Prophet Mohammed.
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said that in addition to two Indonesians who lost their lives, more than 30 were injured, some seriously.
The foreign ministry in New Delhi said two Indians were killed and that 15 others were being treated in hospital for injuries.
Malaysia said 10 of its nationals were hurt and six unaccounted for.
Iran's official IRNA news agency said 15 Iranian pilgrims were among those hurt, while Egypt said 23 of its nationals were injured.
Condolences came from around the world, including from Arab leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Britain's David Cameron.
It is not the first time tragedy has struck Mecca pilgrims. In 2006, several hundred were killed in a stampede during the Stoning of the Devil ritual in nearby Mina, following a similar incident two years earlier.
But the haj has been nearly incident-free in recent years because of multi-billion dollar projects.
Work is under way to expand the area of the Grand Mosque by 400,000 square metres (4.3 million square feet), allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.
Several cranes tower over the site under a project being carried out by Saudi Binladin Group, which belongs to the family of the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.