The annual hajj to Mecca will go ahead despite the crane tragedy at the Grand Mosque yesterday (11 September) that left 107 people dead and 238 wounded. The tragedy occurred when high winds and thunderstorms sent the crane crashing through the ceiling of the mosque which surrounds Islam's holiest place, the Kaaba.
Hajj will begin on September 21 leaving time for the affected area of the mosque to be repaired. The annual pilgrimage is one of the largest religious festivals in the world, and last year drew two million worshipers to the holy site from 160 countries. A Saudi official, who declined to be named, told Mail Online: "It definitely will not affect the hajj this season and the affected part will probably be fixed in a few days."
Meanwhile, an investigation into the incident has been launched today, amid claims that health and safety standards at the mosque were inadequate. The site is surrounded by giant cranes after 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.
Authorities have been criticised for leaving the location still under construction as hundreds of thousands of Muslims prepare to gather for the annual hajj pilgrimage. Irfan al-Alawi, co-founder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation said authorities were negligent in leaving the cranes overlooking the mosque. "They do not care about the heritage, and they do not care about health and safety," he said.
The mosque, which is the largest in the world, was full of worshippers ahead of the 6.30pm Friday evening prayer session, when the crane crashed through the roof. Dramatic footage shows the moment the crane struck the building, while photos posted on social media display the full extent of the carnage as the marble floor of the mosque was strewn with rubble, bodies and pools of blood. Hundreds of rescue medical workers rushed to the scene and were seen carrying bodies away on stretchers.
Tributes poured in on social media in the aftermath of the tragedy. Prime Minister David Cameron offered his 'thoughts and prayers' to the families of those killed. He tweeted: "My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones at Mecca today."
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: "I'm shocked and saddened to hear of the accident in Mecca involving a large number of fatalities amongst those attending the Hajj. My thoughts are with the families of those affected."
Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan wrote: "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."
The President of India Pranab Mukherjee posted a message of support stating: "Heartfelt condolences to families of deceased due to crane crash in Mecca, prayers for speedy recovery of the injured."
Residents in Mecca have been encouraged to donate blood at hospitals in the area.