MINA: At least 717 pilgrims were killed on Thursday in a stampede at Mina, outside the Muslim holy city of Makkah, where some two million people are performing Haj.
The Saudi civil defence directorate Tweeted saying that 863 people were injured in the incident. Saudi Arabia's health minister blamed undisciplined pilgrims for the deadly stampede Thursday during the Haj, saying the tragedy would not have occurred if they “had followed instructions”.
Health Minister Khaled al-Falih was quoted by El-Ekhbariya television as saying “many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables” established by authorities, which was the “principal reason for this type of accident.“
“If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided. “
Minister for Religious and Interfaith Harmony Sardar Muhammad Yousuf confirmed the death of at least six Pakistani pilgrims in the Mina stampede.
Pakistanis wishing to enquire about their loved ones can call an emergency helpline at 00966125458000 and 0096612527753.
At least 90 Irani nationals have also been confirmed dead in the stampede.
An emergency was declared in all nearby hospitals. At least 4,000 emergency personnel, 220 ambulances and six helicopters took part in the rescue operations, the service said.
Photos released by the directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers in orange and yellow vests helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the white tents.
Teams on the ground led pilgrims away from the stampede, to safety, by means of alternate routes, the civil defence service said.
The incident occurred across the street number 204 at its intersection with the street number 223 in Mina at nine am (local time), Radio Pakistan quoted a spokesman of Saudi Directorate of Civil Defense.
He further said that pilgrims were flocking to Jamarat site to throw pebbles at grand Jamarat Aqaba when there was a sudden increase in number of pilgrims heading towards Jamarat facility.
The spokesman said that security men and Saudi Red Crescent Authority's personnel rushed to the site to control the situation. They regulated the pilgrims' traffic towards the incident site and took immediate procedures to rescue and save the pilgrims.
Efforts to improve safety at Jamarat have included enlarging the three pillars and constructing a three-decker bridge around them to increase the area and number of entry and exit points for pilgrims to perform the ritual.
More than 100,000 police and thousands of video cameras are also deployed to allow groups to be dispersed before they reach dangerous levels of density.
“Please pilgrims do not push one another. Please leave from the exit and don't come back by the same route,” an officer kept repeating through a loudspeaker at Jamarat.
Mina is a large valley about five kilometres from the holy city of Makkah. The valley houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage. Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls. The temperature in the valley is approximately 45 degree Celsius.
The stampede took place near Maktib Number 93 where mostly Algerian pilgrims are staying, according to a report on the Radio Pakistan website.
Information regarding the well-being of Pakistani pilgrims is being collected, the Foreign Office said. The Pakistani Embassy is in touch with Saudi authorities in this regard, Radio Pakistan reported.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of lives in the tragic incident.
Premier Nawaz Sharif directed Pakistan's Ambassador in Saudia Arabia to "visit the injured at the hospitals and facilitate the injured and the martyred as much as possible."
Saudi King Salman orders review of Haj plans after disaster
Saudi King Salman said he had ordered a review of the kingdom's plans for the annual Haj pilgrimage after more than 700 died in a crush outside Makkah.
King Salman, speaking in a live speech broadcast by Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television, also said he had asked for a swift investigation into what he described as a painful incident.
Saudi crown prince orders probe into deadly stampede
Saudi Arabia's crown prince ordered an investigation into the stampede at the Haj pilgrimage that left more than 700 dead on Thursday, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who chairs the Saudi Haj committee, ordered the probe during a meeting with senior officials responsible for the pilgrimage in Mina, where the stampede took place.
The findings of the investigation will be submitted to King Salman, “who will take appropriate measures” in response, the agency added.
Tweets from the civil defence service showed rescue operations under way at the scene.
The Haj pilgrimage this year was undeterred by a crane collapse in Makkah earlier this month that killed 111 people and injured nearly 400 at Islam's holiest site.
Previously marred by stampedes and fires that killed hundreds, Haj has been largely incident-free for the past decade after safety improvements.
Pakistani cricketers safe after stampede
A number of former and current Pakistani cricketers, including One Day International captain Azhar Ali, offspinner Saeed Ajmal, batsman Asad Shafiq, former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Rehman are also among those performing Haj.
The cricketers barely escaped the tragedy as they had departed from Mina five minutes prior to the stampede, according to a tweet by former batsman Mohammad Wasim.
Deadly Haj-related incidents during the past three decades
1990: The worst Haj-related tragedy claims the lives of 1,426 pilgrims in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Makkah.
1994: Some 270 pilgrims are killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual at Mina.
1997: At least 340 pilgrims are killed in a fire at the tent city of Mina as the blaze was aided by high winds. More than 1,500 were injured.
1998: About 180 pilgrims are trampled to death in panic after several of them fell off an overpass during the final stoning ritual at Mina.
2001: A stampede at Mina during the final day of the pilgrimage ceremonies kills 35 Haj pilgrims.
2004: A crush of pilgrims at Mina kills 244 pilgrims and injures hundreds on the final day of the Haj ceremonies.
2006: More than 360 pilgrims are killed in a stampede at the desert plain of Mina, near Makkah, where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls. The day before the Haj began, an eight-story building being used as a hostel near the Grand Mosque in Makkah collapsed, killing at least 73 people.
2015: At least 111 people killed and nearly 400 wounded during a crane accident at Makkah's Grand Mosque Islam's holiest site.