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Haj to take place despite crane collapse

13 September, 2015

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MAKKAH: Haj would take place despite a crane collapse that killed 107 people at the Grand Mosque here, Saudi authorities said on Saturday as crowds returned to pray a day after the tragedy.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had already arrived in Makkah for Haj when the massive red and white crane toppled over during a Friday thunderstorm.

Parts of the Grand Mosque remained sealed off on Saturday around the wreckage of the crane, which also injured around 200 people when it crashed into a courtyard.

But there was little mourning among the pilgrims, who snapped pictures of the wreckage and continued with their prayers.

“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, and the injured included Malaysians, Egyptians and Iranians. “Suddenly, I heard thunder and then we heard a very loud noise. That was the sound of the crane falling,” said Mohammed, a Moroccan pilgrim.

A Saudi official said the Haj, expected to start on September 21, would go ahead 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, who declined to be named.

An investigative committee had “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.

The cranes soar skywards over a sprawling mosque expansion project taking place beneath the Royal Clock Tower, the world’s third tallest building.

For years, work has been under way on a 400,000-square-metre expansion of the Grand Mosque to allow it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.

According to Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he worked at the mosque, the casualty toll would have been higher had a covered walkway surrounding the holy Kaaba not broken the crane’s fall.

“We saw people dying before our eyes,” the Arab News quoted Sheikh Abdul Raheem as saying.

Pictures of the incident on Twitter showed bloodied bodies strewn across the courtyard, where part of the crane had landed atop an ornate, arched and colonnaded section of the complex.

Saudis and foreigners lined up to donate blood in response to the tragedy. The authorities said that stormy winds had knocked over the crane.

“Heavy rain and strong winds of unusually high speed led to the uprooting of trees, the fall of panels and the collapse of the crane,” General Suleiman al-Amr, director general of the Civil Defence Authority, told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV.

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