Human tragedy unfolded during the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia on Thursday as more than 700 people were crushed to death, and hundreds more injured, as a stampede took hold during a procession in Mina, outside the holy city of Mecca.
The stampede occurred Thursday morning during the ritual known as "stoning the devil" in the tent city of Mina, about 2 miles from Mecca, Islam's holiest city.
Hundreds have been killed in past years during the same ceremony, and it comes only 13 days after a crane collapse killed more than 100 people at another major Islamic holy site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
"We have a stampede accident in Mina, and civil defense is dealing with it," said Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Civil defense authorities said the latest death toll is 453, but the numbers have been climbing steadily. Officials deployed 4,000 workers and 220 ambulances and other vehicles to Mina to help with the disaster.
Though such incidents have occurred in the past during the annual religious pilgrimage, the very large number of casualties on Thursday makes it possibly the worst in the modern history of the hajj. As the New York Times reports:
In 2006, a stampede there claimed more than 360 lives on the eve of the hajj, and a day earlier an eight-story building near the Grand Mosque collapsed, killing at least 73 people.
In 2001, a stampede in Mina killed around 35 people; in 1998, about 180 pilgrims were trampled there after several of them fell off an overpass during the stoning ritual; in 1997, at least 340 pilgrims were killed in a fire in Mina set off by high winds; and in 1994, about 270 were killed in a stampede there.
“There is no accountability,” Madawi al-Rasheed, an anthropologist and visiting professor at the London School of Economics who is the author of several books on Saudi Arabia, said in a phone interview. “It’s shocking that almost every year there is some kind of death toll.”
In addition to rolling coverage at the Guardian, Twitter is also hosting updates and perspectives on Thursday's deadly incident: