Death toll in Saudi hajj stampede crosses 700

September 25, 2015 09:05
Bodies of pilgrims lie on stretchers after a stampede at Mina in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. The death toll from the crush, which occurred during the annual hajj pilgrimage, has risen to over 700. Photo: Reuters

At least 717 people have been killed and more than 800 injured in the stampede Thursday at the annual hajj pilgrimage near the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

In the deadliest tragedy at the hajj in 25 years, a stampede began midmorning in the area of Mina on the outskirts of Mecca as hundreds of thousands of people were moving toward a five-storey structure to carry out a "stoning of the devil' ritual. 

BBC cited a spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry as saying that the crush occurred when two large groups of pilgrims converged from different directions on to one street.

Footage aired on Arab television stations showed Saudi soldiers and rescue workers walking among rows of bodies covered with sheets or body bags.

Following the tragedy, Saudi Arabia's King Salman has ordered a safety review for the hajj pilgrimage.

There is a need "to improve the level of organization and management of movement" of pilgrims, the King said.

Thursday's incident was the second major disaster of the pilgrimage season this year.

Earlier this month, a crane collapsed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing at least 109 people.

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