The death toll from the Grand Mosque tragedy in Mecca is now believed to have risen to 107. According to Saudi Civil Defence another 203 people have been injured after a crane collapsed at the holy site.
High winds and thunderstorms sent the crane crashing through the ceiling of the mosque which surrounds Islam's holiest place, the Kaaba. Pictures on social media show the crane being struck by a bolt of lightning. The Civil Defense had earlier warned of thunderstorms, heavy rain and high winds in the area.
— Javed (@JoySrkian) September 11, 2015
The tragic incident occurred shortly before the 6:30pm Friday evening prayer session in an outer area of the mosque, which is the largest in the world.
Al Jazeera's Hasan Patel, reporting from Mecca, said witnesses told him that a crane fell on the third floor of the Grand Mosque around 5.45pm. The mosque was filled to capacity ahead of the evening prayers.
Describing the scene he said: "Dozens of ambulances are heading to the site. The authorities closed off the area shortly afterwards. This whole place is already a construction site. What made it worse is that around 5.30pm there was severe rain and it's just gushing down the road. I am surrounded by people who are grieving. The mood here is of sadness."
I express my deep sense of grief & sorrow over the deaths due to the crane collapse at the grand mosque of #Mecca
— Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri (@TahirulQadri) September 11, 2015
Shocking images on social media showed pilgrims in bloodied robes and surrounded by masses of debris. A video posted on YouTube, which could not be independently verified, appeared to record the moment the crane fell, with a loud crash heard in the background followed by panic and shouting.
Search and rescue teams and medical workers from the Saudi Red Crescent have been sent to the scene to provide emergency relief.
Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, Chairman of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Founder of Minhaj-ul-Quran Int issued an official statement on Twitter expressing his regret at the tragedy. He wrote: "I express my deep sense of grief & sorrow over the deaths due to the crane collapse at the grand mosque of #Mecca"
— Abdul Wasey Naik (@WaseyNaik) September 11, 2015
Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan offered his condolences adding: "Saddened to learn of the death of pilgrims as a result of the crane accident in Haram Sharif.Condolences & prayers go to families of victims"
Saudi authorities began a major expansion of the site last year to increase the area of the mosque by 400,000 square metres (4.3 million square feet), to allow it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once. The crane that collapsed was one of a number stationed around the site.
— Breaking News Feed (@PzFeed) September 11, 2015
The tragic accident has happened just as millions of people are expected to converge on the Muslim holy city of Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is one of the largest religious gatherings in the world and has been prone to disasters. Hundreds of pilgrims died in a stampede in 2006.
Saddened to learn of the death of pilgrims as a result of the crane accident in Haram Sharif.Condolences & prayers go to families of victims
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) September 11, 2015
Saudi authorities have lavished vast sums to expand the main haj sites and improve Mecca's transportation system in an effort to prevent more disasters.