Haj to go ahead; crane collapse toll reaches 107
At least 107 people died when the crane toppled into a courtyard of the mosque during extremely high winds on Friday.
Saudi authorities said on Saturday that Haj pilgrimage will go ahead despite a crane collapse that killed 107 people at holy city of Makkah’s Grand Mosque, where crowds returned to pray a day after the tragedy. High winds were to blame for the toppling of the crane, the head of Saudi Arabia’s civil defence directorate said on Saturday.
The Director-General of Civil Defence, Suleiman bin Abdullah Al Amro, told satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya that the unusually powerful winds that toppled the crane also tore down trees and signs as a storm whipped through the area.
He denied reports that lightning brought down the red-and-white crane, which was being used for the mosque’s expansion, or that some of those killed died in a stampede.
“The speed of the wind was not normal,” he said. “There was no way for people to know that the crane was about to collapse for them to scramble,” he added.
Parts of the Grand Mosque remained sealed off on Saturday around the toppled crane, which also injured around 200 people when it fell into a courtyard.
“I wish I had died in the accident, as it happened at a holy hour and in a holy place,” Egyptian pilgrim Mohammed Ibrahim said.
Om Salma, a Moroccan pilgrim, said “our phones have not stopped ringing since yesterday with relatives calling to check on us”.
Indonesians and Indians were among those killed when the crane collapsed, while the injured included Malaysians, Egyptians, Iranians, Indians and Pakistanis.
A Saudi official said the Haj, expected to start on September 21, would proceed despite the tragedy. “It definitely will not affect the Haj this season, and the affected part will probably be fixed in a few days,” said the official.
An investigative committee has “immediately and urgently” begun searching for the cause of the collapse, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
The contractor has been directed to ensure the safety of all other cranes at the site, it added.
Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he works at the mosque, said he saw the massive construction crane fall during the storm.
“If it weren’t for Al Tawaf bridge the injuries and deaths would have been worse,” he said.
A witness said the winds were so strong that they shook his car and tossed billboards around.
Saudis and foreigners lined up in the street to give blood in response to the tragedy. — Agencies
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