MAKKAH — A massive construction crane crashed in the Grand Mosque in stormy weather on Friday evening, killing at least 107 people and injuring 238, Saudi authorities said.
The tragedy occurred as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered from all over the world for the annual Haj pilgrimage expected to begin on Sept. 21. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, emir of Makkah and advisor of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has ordered an investigation into the incident.
The nationalities of the dead and injured pilgrims are yet to be announced. Consuls General of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh told Saudi Gazette that so far there were no confirmed reports of death among their pilgrims. Pakistan Consul General Aftab A. Khokher said that around 15 Pakistani pilgrims were injured and they have been admitted to two hospitals in Makkah.
Indian Consul General B.S. Mubarak said 10 Indian pilgrims were injured in the accident. About 25 Bangladesh pilgrims sustained injuries and their condition is stable, according to A.K.M. Shahidul Karim, consul general of Bangladesh.
Ahmad Al-Mansouri, spokesman of the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, said the tragedy occurred at 5.10 p.m. due to strong winds and heavy rain, causing a part of the crane to smash into the part of the Grand Mosque where worshippers circumambulate the Holy Kaaba (mataf) and where pilgrims walk between Mount Safa and Marwa (mas’a).
“At least 107 people were dead and another 238 were injured,” he said.
Gen. Suleiman Al-Amr, director general of the Civil Defense Authority, told Al-Ikhbariya television that strong wind and rains had uprooted trees and affected cranes in the area. “All those who were wounded and the dead have been taken to hospital,” he said.
Al-Mansouri said Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier, minister of interior and chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee, and Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, chairman of the Central Haj Committee, are closely following up on the accident from the moment of its happening. The presidency expressed deep sorrow over the tragedy and conveyed its deep condolences to the Saudi leadership and the family members of the dead. It prayed for the speedy recovery of those sustaining injuries.
Following the accident, the health authorities in Makkah had declared red alert at all hospitals in the city. The Civil Defense authorities said on Twitter that emergency teams were sent to the scene after a crane fell at the Grand Mosque. That came about an hour after it tweeted that Makkah was “witnessing medium to heavy rains,” with pictures circulating on social media showing lightning. Pictures of the incident on Twitter showed bloodied bodies strewn across a courtyard where the top part of the crane, which appeared to have bent or snapped, had crashed into the mosque structure.
A video on YouTube showed people screaming and scurrying around right after a massive crash was heard and as fog engulfed the city. The crashed crane is regarded as one of the largest cranes used in the Middle East region.
The largest ever expansion in the history of the Grand Mosque is in its final phase when the accident occurred. The project will expand the area of the mosque by 400,000 square meters, allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once. All the finished parts of the mataf were opened for pilgrims for Friday prayers on the day of the accident.
Meanwhile, Saudi Binladin Group, which is implementing the Haram expansion project, announced halting of all the construction works. Muhammad Muneeb Agha, deputy executive director general, said that the last working day at the project site was Thursday, Sept. 10. “As per the directive from Nawaf Bakr Binladin, only those works such as cleaning, removal of debris, and emergency and safety works would continue at the expansion site,” he said.
Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, emir of Makkah and advisor of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, conveyed the condolences of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier, minister of interior and chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee, to the bereaved family members of those who died in the Haram crane crash.
The emir visited the accident scene and the hospitals where the injured pilgrims were undergoing treatment. “May Allah forgive the deceased and accommodate them in Paradise,” he said, while also praying for the speedy recovery of those injured.
Speaking to reporters on Friday night at the accident scene, Prince Khaled said that two committees have been formed to probe into the accident. The emir has also ordered the renovation of the accident scene within the coming two days.
Later, visiting the injured at various hospitals, Prince Khaled said that their injury would not prevent them from performing Haj pilgrimage. “We will take them to the holy sites on board the well-equipped ambulances of the Ministry of Health,” he said.