Disaster at the Hajj

Saudi officials say at least 717 Hajj pilgrims are dead and 863 injured in a stampede near Islam’s holiest city.

Rescuers respond Thursday to a stampede that killed and injured pilgrims in Mina during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense agency / AP)

Updated on September 24 at 10:12 a.m.

Saudi officials now say at least 717 people are dead and 863 others were injured in a stampede near Mecca.

The Saudi Civil Defense Directorate said on Twitter that 4,000 emergency personnel and more than 220 emergency and rescue teams were sent to the scene of the stampede. Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned Arabic language broadcaster, reported that the injured were taken to four hospitals in Mina; some were flown by helicopter to Mecca, which is a few miles away.

Millions of Muslims are participating in the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. Al Arabiya reports the stampede occurred in the city of Mina at the entrance to the Jamarat Bridge at about 9 a.m. local time. The bridge is where the “stoning of the devil,” one of the last major rites of the Hajj is performed.

In a statement, the Saudi Civil Defense Directorate said the stampede occurred after a “sudden increase” in the number of pilgrims to the pillars where the rite is performed, resulting “in a stampede among the pilgrims and the collapse of a large number of them.”

Khaled al-Falih, the Saudi health minister, said pilgrims had failed to follow directions.

“Many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables,” he said. “If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.”

The deaths come less than two weeks after a crane collapse at Mecca’s Grand Mosque killed 109 people and injured about 400 others.

Fatalities at the Hajj are relatively common. Here’s a breakdown of recent deaths at the Hajj, via the BBC:

2006: 364 pilgrims die in a crush during the stone-throwing ritual

1997: 343 pilgrims killed and 1,500 injured in fire

1994: 270 killed in stampede

1990: 1,426 pilgrims killed in stampede inside tunnel leading to holy sites

1987: 400 people die as Saudi authorities confront pro-Iranian demonstration