At least 310 people were killed and hundreds were injured in a stampede Thursday at the annual Haj pilgrimage, Saudi authorities said.
The crush happened in Mina, a large valley about five kilometers from the holy city of Makkah. Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls. It also houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.
The Saudi civil defense directorate earlier said at least 450 other pilgrims were injured in the stampede on Street 204 in Mina. It was not immediately clear if some of those previously listed as injured were included in rising death tolls.
The directorate said that civil defence teams had rushed in to deal with the disaster, caused by large numbers of people pushing at Mina.
More than 200 ambulances and 4,000 emergency relief personnel had been deployed to deal with the stampede, it said. The street impacted by the stampede has been sealed off to prevent further crowd from gathering while the pilgrimage was continuing, it said.
Amateur video shared on social media showed scores of bodies – the men dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during Haj – lying amid crushed wheelchairs and water bottles along a sunbaked street.
Survivors assessed the scene from the top of roadside stalls near white tents as rescue workers in orange and yellow vests combed the area.
Photos released by the directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the tents.
Some 2 million people are taking part in this year’s Haj, which began Tuesday.
Saudi authorities take extensive precautions to ensure the security of the Haj and the safety of pilgrims. In the past the pilgrimage was for years marred by stampedes and fires, but it had been largely incident-free for nearly a decade following safety improvements.
The stampede was the deadliest disaster at the Haj since 2006, when more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in the same area. Another stampede at Mina in 2004 left 244 pilgrims dead and hundreds injured.
Preparations for this year's Haj were marred when on September 11 a construction crane collapsed at Makkah’s Grand Mosque, killing 109 people.