At least 717 people were killed, and 863 were injured, in a stampede near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday morning.
The deaths — at an intersection in Mina, about six miles east of the city — occurred around 9 a.m. on the first day of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest holidays in the Muslim calendar, and as millions of Muslims were making their pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca.
Warning: The images and video in this story include dead bodies and may be disturbing to some readers. Viewer discretion is advised.
It appeared to be the deadliest accident duringthe hajj since 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims perished in a stampede in a tunnel linking Mecca and Mina. And it occurred less than two weeks after a large construction crane toppled and crashed into the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing at least 111 people and injuring 394 others.
Thursday’s stampede is likely to intensify fears that the kingdom does not have the transportation and public safety infrastructure to channel and protect what is the world’s largest regular human migration.
The high death toll is likely to embarrass the Saudi government, which considers itself the leader of the Muslim world and takes great pride in hosting the millions of pilgrims who visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina each year. One of the titles of the Saudi monarch is “custodian of the two holy mosques,” referring to his personal duty to protect the sites and the pilgrims.
The Saudi civil defense directorate reported the deaths on Twitter and said that two medical centers had been opened in Mina to treat the injured. More than 4,000 emergency workers were sent to the scene, and hundreds of people were taken to four hospitals.
لا تزال الفرق تباشر عمليات الفرز، وقد ارتفع عدد الحالات إلى 310 وفاة من جنسيات مختلفة.
— الدفاع المدني (@SaudiDCD) September 24, 2015
The accident on Thursday, witnesses reported on social media, occurred around the area where pilgrims go to perform a ritual — the Stoning of the Devil, a re-enactment of a story from the Quran involving the Prophet Abraham — that takes place during the hajj.
Videos of the aftermath shared on social media showed scores of lifeless bodies in the street, many covered with the simple white garments pilgrims wear during the hajj. One video showed a heap of men lying atop each other, while rescue workers in fluorescent yellow vests worked to separate the dead from the living, and to rescue any survivors.
— نسيمة السادة (@nasema33) September 24, 2015
— ? بھیجہ فــــــرائی (@BhaijaFry) September 24, 2015