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Dirco yet to confirm if SA citizens among those killed in Mecca

It’s believed the crane was toppled by a heavy storm, killing at least 107 pilgrims and injuring 238 others.

Saudi emergency teams gather at the site of accident in the Grand Mosque of Saudi Arabia’s holy Muslim city of Mecca on 11 September, 2015, after a construction crane crashed into it. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - The Department of International Relations and Cooperation says officials in Saudi Arabia are still working to confirm if any South Africans are among the dead or injured following a crane accident in Mecca.

It's believed the crane was toppled by a heavy storm, killing at least 107 pilgrims and injuring 238 others.

A probe has been launched into the circumstances surrounding the accident.

Dirco says it expects South Africans to be among the thousands making their way to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage.

The department's Nelson Kgwete says, "At this point the South African embassy in Saudi Arabia is still monitoring development, working with authorities to verify whether South African citizens were among those affected by the crane collapse in Mecca yesterday."

At the same time, there are fears the death toll from the collapse of a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca could rise, with many still in hospital.

The tragedy comes as thousands make their way to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage, where some 3 million people are expected to gather later this month.

The religious gathering has seen other tragedies in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rush to complete rituals and return home.

The crane apparently collapsed after being hit by lightning as worshippers gathered from all over the world for annual gathering expected to begin on 21 September.

Mecca governor ordered an immediate investigation into the tragedy. Following the disaster, health authorities in Mecca have declared an emergency at all hospitals in the city.

The nationalities of the dead and the injured are not yet known.

A statement by a spokesman for the administration of the mosques in Mecca and Medina said the crane smashed into the part of the Grand Mosque where worshippers circle the Kaaba, the black-clad cube towards which the world's 1.6 billion Muslims face to pray.

Saudi authorities go to great lengths to prepare for the millions of Muslims who converge on Mecca to perform the sacred pilgrimage.

Last year, they reduced the numbers permitted to make the haj pilgrimage on safety grounds because of construction work to enlarge the Grand Mosque.

The haj, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, has been prone to disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rush to complete rituals and return home. Hundreds of pilgrims died in such a crush in 2006.

Saudi authorities have since spent vast sums to expand the main haj sites and improve Mecca's transport system, in an effort to prevent more disasters.

Security services often ring Islam's sacred city with checkpoints and other measures to prevent people arriving for the pilgrimage without authorisation.

Those procedures, aimed at reducing crowd pressure which can lead to stampedes, fires and other hazards, have been intensified in recent years as security threats grow throughout the Middle East.

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