At least 310 pilgrims were killed and more than 500 were injured in a stampede at Mina on Thursday, the Saudi civil defense directorate reported. About two million people have gathered in the holy city of Mecca to perform Hajj. The stampede occurred in Street 204 of Mina, just three miles away from the holy city of Mecca. Authorities said this was only the initial number, signalling the death toll could rise further.
Rescue operations underway
According to Al Jazeera, the incident took place in the street between Mecca’s Grand Mosque and Mount Arafat. The civil defense directorate has declared an emergency in nearby hospitals and rescue operations are underway. About 220 ambulances and 4,000 emergency personnel were involved in rescue operations. Al Jazeera said the stampede didn’t happen during the stoning of the devil ritual, which was taking place on Thursday.
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Police on the ground were leading pilgrims to safety, away from the stampede, via alternate routes. The Mina valley is home to over 160,000 tents where pilgrims stay at night during the pilgrimage. The stoning of the devil also takes place in the same valley. According to Radio Pakistan, the incident took place near Maktib Number 93 where mostly Algerian pilgrims stay.
Second major tragedy at this year’s Hajj
The tragic incident comes less than two week after a crane collapse in Mecca that claimed 111 lives and injured more than 400 people. The stoning of the devil ceremony had been the scene of hundreds of deaths every year in the 1980s and 1990s. A stampede killed at least 363 people in 2006. However, the Saudi government has significantly improved the infrastructure in the holy city to accommodate the massive influx of pilgrims during Hajj.
Thursday marked the third day of the Hajj pilgrimage. Many devout Muslims consider losing one’s life during the Hajj season as an entry to heaven. Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam. The worst Hajj-related tragedy occurred in 1990, when at least 1,426 pilgrims lost their lives in a stampede in an overcrowded tunnel leading to the holy sites in Mecca.