Hundreds of people were killed and hundreds more injured in a stampede near Mecca, Saudi Arabia on one of the holiest holidays in the Muslim calendar Thursday.
At least 717 people were killed and 863 were injured around 9 a.m. local time in Mina on the first day of Eid al-Adha, as millions of Muslims were making their pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca, Saudi authorities confirmed on Twitter.
“The high number of injuries #منى and deaths to 805 to 717 deaths,” the official account of the Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense wrote about 8:30 a.m. E.T. He later updated the number of those injured to the higher count.
ارتفاع عدد الإصابات في #منى إلى ٨٠٥ إصابة والوفيات إلى ٧١٧ حالة وفاة.— الدفاع المدني (@KSA_998) September 24, 2015
Two medical centers were opened to treat the injured, the Directorate reported on Twitter.
More than 4,000 emergency responders were on the scene and hundreds of people were taken to four hospitals, it said.
“We ask God to grant the martyrs his mercy,” the Saudi civil defense directorate said on Twitter.
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry noted the crush appeared to have been caused by two waves of pilgrims who met at the intersection, the Associated Press reported. The groups were on their way to a ritual symbolic stoning of the devil that takes place during the hajj, witnesses said on social media.
High temperatures and pilgrims’ fatigue might also have been factors in the stampede, Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said, the AP wrote.
"I saw someone trip over someone in a wheelchair and several people tripping over him. People were climbing over one another just to breathe," Egyptian pilgrim Abdullah Lotfy, 44, told the AP.
Al-Turki said there is no indication that authorities are to blame for the disaster, adding "Unfortunately, these incidents happen in a moment."
But Lofty told the AP that the collision should never have happened, saying "there was no preparation" on the part of Saudi authorities.
Al-Turki said King Salman has ordered the creation of committee to investigate the incident.
Tens of thousands of air-conditioned tents are temporarily erected in Mina to provide housing for the more than two million pilgrims en route to Mecca, the New York Times reported.
Pilgrims continued to make their way to Mina during and after the stampede to perform the ritual, according to Al Jazeera.
Ismail Hamba, 58, from Nigeria, recalled falling down and then being trampled, telling the AP "it was really, really terrible."
The Thursday stampede is reportedly the deadliest event to afflict the hajj pilgrimage in more than two decades, but multiple deadly accidents have occurred in Mina over the years, including a 2006 stampede that killed more than 360 people a day before the hajj was set to take place.
A 2001 stampede killed about 35 people and in 1998, around 180 people were killed after several pilgrims fell off an overpass during the ritual.
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