Mecca Stampede Kills 345 People Amid Hajj Pilgrimage (Update1)
Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- At least 345 people died today during a stampede at the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, the Saudi Arabian health minister said.
Many of the 289 people hurt in the incident were released from hospital after receiving first-aid treatment, the minister, Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Maneh, was quoted by the official Saudi Arabian news agency, SPA, as saying.
The security spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Mansour bin Sultan Al-Turki, said that the incident occurred at the eastern entrance of the Jamarat Bridge in Mena, a valley outside Mecca, just after sunset, according to SPA. The pilgrims were performing a ritual in which pebbles are cast at pillars to symbolize the stoning of Satan.
Millions of Muslim visitors are in Mecca, birthplace of the prophet Mohammed, for the Hajj. As the fifth and final pillar of Islam, every able-bodied adult Muslim must undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives.
Crowding has been a factor in many deaths during the annual event, including the 1990 Hajj, when more than 1,400 died, and in 2004, when about 250 were crushed in Mena.
The stoning of Satan is the riskiest part of the Hajj as pilgrims jostle to make sure their pebbles strike one of three pillars, and weaker ones risk being trampled on by the masses, Agence France-Presse reported.
Luggage, which fell from moving buses, caused the pilgrims to trip, al-Turki said, adding that security forces cordoned off the area in an attempt to rescue and provide aid to the wounded. Al-Jazeera television showed the bodies of dozens of pilgrims covered in white shrouds.
Almost 60,000 security, health, emergency and other personnel were involved in organizing this year's Hajj, in a bid to prevent a stampede, AFP reported.
After today's ritual, Muslims will make a final visit to Mecca's Grand Mosque.