Fourteen Indian Haj pilgrims have been confirmed dead and at least 13 injured at the Mina stampede in Saudi Arabia, according to India's envoys in Jeddah. Nine of the dead were from Gujarat, two each from Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra and one from Jharkhand. India's foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj cautioned that these figures were yet to be confirmed by Saudi authorities.
The exact number will be known after confirmation by Saudi authorities.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) September 25, 2015
List of Indians killed in yesterday's stampede in Mina pic.twitter.com/vEgf9cwYJe— ANI (@ANI_news) September 25, 2015
List of Indians injured in yesterday's stampede in Mina pic.twitter.com/mHEEfFbkQA— ANI (@ANI_news) September 25, 2015
Nearly 1.5 lakh Indians had gone on the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca this year, which has aalready seen a major accident, that killed at least 107 this month.
The Saudi civil defence authority said 717 pilgrims from different nationalities were killed and 863 others were injured in the stampede that took place due to a sudden surge in the number of pilgrims heading to Jamarat for symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls resulted in the stampede at 9 AM local time (1130 IST).
The hajj, which drew 2 million people from over 180 countries this year, is a huge logistical challenge for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has spent billions of dollars to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims and maintain safety and security at Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina for the annual event.
The Indian Express spoke to the kin of several Haj pilgrims, most of who couldn't contact them hours after they got news of the tragedy. The paper spoke to Pune resident Hashim Sheikh who had not been able to trace his brothers family, who were planning to attend the final Hajj ritual in Mina.
IE quotes Sheikh: “We tried calling the tour operator after we couldn’t reach my brother but he said even he was unable to contact his people there. I tried contacting the Haj committee in Mumbai but was unsuccessful. There is no information available anywhere. They say Indians are not affected but none of the information is confirmed. I am just praying for them."
It didn't take long for new of the disaster to reach Mehboob Ali Sheikh of Hyderabad. Soon after the news of the stampede reached them, Majeed learned that his 60-year-old mother-in-law Jaanbibi Majeed was no more. Sheikh told The Indian Express that Jaanbibi's husband informed them that she had fallen down during the stampede. She couldn't get up and was crushed. The elderly woman was accompanied by three other women, who survived the incident.
The family wants Jaan bibi to be buried at Mina itself.
However, the list released today by the government doesn't list Jaanbibi has one of the deceased, nor does it have the name of any victim from Hyderabad, which suggests that the number of dead is still a matter of revision.
An AP journalist saw bodies still lying on the ground more than 10 hours after the crush and ensuing stampede in Mina, a large valley containing 160,000 tents for accommodations about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Mecca.
Saudi authorities began an investigation, said Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, adding that initial reports showed two crowds coming from opposing directions converged at an intersection in Mina, on the outskirts of Mecca, when the pushing and shoving started.
"Unfortunately, these incidents happen in a moment," al-Turki said at a news conference.
As of late Thursday, the Saudi civil defense directorate said the death toll was 719, but that probably would rise as bodies continued to be counted and sent to the morgue. At least 863 people were injured, the directorate said.
The Haj Committee in India told The Hindu that the communication from the government hasn't been entirely satisfactory, "This year," said a spokesperson for the committee, "almost 80,000 of the 1.5-lakh pilgrims are above 70. So naturally a lot of people back home are worried about the condition of the pilgrims from India."
(With inputs from Associated Press)