MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) The convergence of millions of pilgrims has once again brought tragedy, with the deaths yesterday of 35 Muslims trampled in a crush of bodies during the stoning the devil ritual at the annual hajj pilgrimage.
Hours later, the enormous crowd was calm and many of the estimated 2 million pilgrims in the sprawling, overcrowded tent city were unaware of it.
A witness said the incident started early in the morning and was brought under control about three hours later. The witness, an Egyptian journalist who was performing the pilgrimage and spoke on condition of anonymity, saw a few people at a time suffocate or fall and be trampled to death.
Most of the victims died of suffocation, said Saad bin Abdallah al-Tuwegry, a Saudi civil defense chief.
“A stampede resulted when the older people in the crowd couldn”t move as fast as others,” al-Tuwegry told the official Saudi Press Agency. “Security forces intervened promptly and prevented the accident from getting worse. We have constantly urged the pilgrims to follow the guidelines for safety that we put forth in order to avoid such disasters.”
Security and safety have been major concerns at the hajj, the annual pilgrimage that according to Islam must be performed once in a lifetime by every Muslim who is able to do so. Hundreds of hajj pilgrims have been killed in stampedes in recent years, in several cases at the stoning the devil ritual.
In yesterday”s tragedy, the news agency said 23 women and 12 men were killed and an unknown number of people were injured.
An official at the Mina General Hospital told The Associated Press that hundreds of pilgrims, mostly women and the elderly, were rushed to hospitals around the city but that most were treated and released.
He said dozens were still hospitalized, most with broken bones and fractures, and some with serious injuries. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the death toll remained below 40.
The Egyptian journalist told AP that most of the victims appeared to be of Asian origin. The mix of peoples and languages adds to the huge crowd control challenge at the hajj. Pilgrims usually move in national groups, with the leaders sometimes carrying small flags for identification.
Anwar Haleem, India”s consul for hajj affairs, told AP that one of the victims was an Indian woman.