Crane crash in Makkah’s Grand Mosque kills 87

More than 180 wounded in accident apparently caused by heavy rainstorm

MAKKAH – At least 87 people were killed and more than 180 injured when a crane crashed through the Masjid-e-Haram in the holy city on Friday, the country’s civil defence said on Twitter.

Few details were immediately available but pictures circulating on social media showed bloodied bodies strewn across part of the mosque where the crane was seen having crashed into the ceiling. The incident occurred as hundreds of thousands of Muslims gather from all over the world for the annual Haj pilgrimage set to begin later this month. The civil defence authority announced the collapse and a series of rising casualty numbers on its official Twitter account. It said 184 people were wounded in the accident. The accident was reportedly a result of heavy rainfall in the city. The nationalities of those killed have not been ascertained as of now.

Videos and photos posted by social media users showed a grisly scene, with police and onlookers attending to multiple bloodied bodies on the polished mosque floors. Pan-satellite Al-Jazeera Television broadcast footage from inside the mosque compound said to be from the aftermath of the accident, showing the floor strewn with rubble and what appear to be pools of blood. Another video, on a Twitter posting, captured the apparent moment of the crane’s collapse during a heavy rainstorm, with a loud boom, screams and confusion.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed deep condolences on the death of pilgrims due to the accident. He prayed for eternal peace of the departed souls and commiserated with the bereaved families and the government of Saudi Arabia. Nawaz Sharif has directed Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia to provide every possible help to the injured and to personally visit patients in hospitals on his behalf. The pilgrimage, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, has been prone to disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rushed to complete rituals and return home. Hundreds of pilgrims died in such a stampede in 2006.

Saudi authorities have since lavished vast sums to expand the main Haj sites and improve Makkah’s transportation system, in an effort to prevent more disasters. Security services often ring Islam’s sacred city with checkpoints and other measures to prevent people arriving for the pilgrimage without authorisation. Those procedures, aimed at reducing crowd pressure which can lead to stampedes, fires and other hazards, have been intensified in recent years as security threats grow throughout the Middle East.

President Mamnoon Hussain also expressed his deep grief and sorrow over the loss of lives in the crane crash. According to a statement from Presidency, the president extended condolences and sympathies to the bereaved families as well as the government of Saudi Arabia. The crane crashed through a roof at Grand Mosque during a heavy rainstorm, leaving piles of debris, jagged rubble and bloodied victims on the marble floors. A Twitter message from Saudi Arabia’s Civil Defence Directorate said at least 184 people were injured.

Images on social media showed dazed survivors, and the injured and dead being dragged across blood-streaked floors. A video posted on Twitter appeared to show the crane collapsing with a loud boom, followed by screams and confusion among the worshipers. A reporter in the holy city said the crane toppled onto the third floor of the Grand Mosque around 5:45pm local time, when the mosque was packed with people awaiting the 6:30pm prayer. Dozens of ambulances raced to the site, and authorities closed off the area. The mosque is among the largest in the world and surrounds Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, which is visited by millions of pilgrims and worshipers each year.

The main Hajj pilgrimage takes place later this month, bringing a flood of Muslims from around to world to Makkah and other sites. Work has been underway to expand the mosque compound, which is surrounded by numerous cranes. Saudi authorities have invested heavily in recent years in efforts to improve safety during the Haj following a series of deadly mishaps. In 1990, a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel on the outskirts of Makkah left more than 1,400 pilgrims dead.

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