A massive construction crane crashed into Makkah’s Grand Mosque in stormy weather on Friday, killing at least 87 people and injuring 201 others, Saudi authorities said, less than a fortnight before the Hajj pilgrimage starts.
The civil defence authority 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.
Authorities have not yet released an official account on what happened.
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 several storey-high 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 incident occurred less than 15 days before the annual Hajj pilgrimage expected. The Grand Mosque is usually at its most crowded on Fridays.
The governor of Makkah region, Prince Khaled al Faisal, has ordered an investigation into the incident and was heading to the mosque, the official @makkahregion page on Twitter said.
Meanwhile, online activists created a hashtag on Twitter urging Makkah residents to donate blood at hospitals in the area. No details were immediately available on the nationalities of the victims. But Iran’s official IRNA news agency, quoting the head of the Hajj Organisation, said that 15 Iranian pilgrims were among those injured. Most of them were treated as outpatients, Saeid Ohadi said. A Malaysian publication put the number of Malaysian deaths at four.
A massive project is currently underway to expand the area of the mosque by 400,000 square metres, allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once. The mosque is surrounded by a number of cranes.
The Hajj has largely been incident-free during the past few years, with Saudi Arabia investing billions of dollars in transport and other infrastructure to facilitate the movement of the huge numbers of people who take part.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2015.