Officials in Saudi Arabia say at least 345 people have been crushed to death during a stoning ritual on the last day of the Hajj. The victims were killed in a stampede at the eastern entrance of Mena’s disaster-prone Jamarat Bridge as Muslim pilgrims jostled to perform the ritual between noon and sunset. The crush intensified as many pilgrims scrambled to pick up belongings lost in the heavy crowds.
As ambulances arrived at the site some people continued moving up onto the bridge to carry out the stoning ceremony before evening prayers. Pilgrims must stand on the bridge while they hurl stones at three pillars representing the place where worshippers believe the devil appeared to Abraham.
The pilgrimage has been marred by fatal stampedes before. Some 250 people were crushed to death at the same spot two years ago. After that, authorities built barriers and deployed 60,000 stewards in a bid to improve security. Further safety enhancements had been planned to start after this year’s Hajj.
It is the second tragedy to hit this year’s event. Last week, 76 people were killed when a hostel in Mecca collapsed.