Hajj hostel collapse toll rises

At least 76 people are now believed to have died when a Makka hostel, where Muslim pilgrims were staying for this year's Hajj, collapsed on Thursday.

    The building was being used as a hostel for pilgrims

    General Mansur al-Turki, the interior ministry spokesman, said another 62 people were wounded and that recovery operations had now been completed.

     

    He said the death toll could rise further as rescuers continue to clear rubble away from the hostel site.

    The tragedy occurred when Luluat al-Khair, a multipurpose building that housed a number of shops and restaurants, collapased in a busy market street.

     

    In a Makka hospital ward, a Yemeni who worked in a clothing shop on the ground floor of the building said four of his Yemeni co-workers lost their lives.

     

    Ali Qasim al-Rimi, 35, said: "I just found myself across the street from the building and I looked up and it was a pile of rubble. I do not know if I fled or someone pulled me out."

     

    The building was rented out as a hostel during the gathering of millions of Muslims in Islam's holiest city.
     
    It was situated just 60m from the Grand Mosque, a focal point of the pilgrimage.

    Cracked foundations

    At least 62 people were wounded
    from the building collapse

    One civil defence
     official told the Saudi government-run Al-Ikhbariya television that the 40-year-old building's foundations were cracked and too weak to support the weight.

    Rajab al-Sayed, 46, an Egyptian pilgrim said: "We were walking back from noon prayers and suddenly debris started falling down on us."

    At the scene on Thursday, Brigadier Khaled Zahouni of the Interior Ministry said 49 wounded had been pulled from the rubble.

    Most of the victims were Arabs from Egypt, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media.

    Abd al-Fattah Salah, the Jordanian minister of waqf and head of the Jordanian Hajj mission, said two Jordanian pilgrims were killed in the collapse and a further five pilgrims were missing.

    Indonesian casualties

    A French pilgrim who witnessed the collapse told AFP that the multi-storey hostel caved in following a fire.

    Saudi government-run Al-Ikhbariya television said many of the casualties were Indonesian.

    About one million of an expected 2.5 million pilgrims are already in Makka for the Hajj pilgrimage which begins on Sunday.

    About one million pilgrims are
    already in Makka for the Hajj

    There was no immediate word on what might have started the fire. In previous years, camp fires have sparked infernos in pilgrim encampments.

     

    A witness said the death toll would have been much higher if the tragedy had not struck during one of the five daily prayers observed by Muslims.

    The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and Muslims are required to make it at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.

    In the face of the massive numbers, the Saudi authorities had set a midnight Wednesday deadline for the last pilgrims to arrive in the kingdom.


    Nigerian misery


    Elsewhere 10,000 Nigerian Muslims are stranded at airports and will miss the Hajj because of a lack of flights to take them to Saudi Arabia, despite holding valid tickets to travel.

     

    Would-be pilgrims, all of whom paid for their tickets months ago, were massed in makeshift campsites at airports across the country. Many had waited for several days.

    State officials blamed poor organisation by state pilgrims' offices and failure to pay a
    high enough price to carriers for the missing flights.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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