Saudi hajj stampede fatalities climb to 717

The Saudi civil defence confirmed that 805 people have also been injured.

Saudi emergency personnel and haj pilgrims stand near bodies covered in sheets at the site where at least hundred were killed and wounded in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, at the annual haj in Saudi Arabia on 24 September 2015. Picture: AFP.

MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA - The death toll at the Saudi hajj crush has risen to 717, the Saudi civil defence has confirmed.

The Saudi civil defence said that the crush, which was caused by large numbers of people gathering at Mina, outside the Muslim holy city of Mecca had left 805 people injured.

It said that civil defence teams were still trying to deal with the disaster.

At the same time, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) of South Africa said more than 2,000 South Africans were taking part in the pilgrimage.

"We do not know exactly if the South African are among those who died in the stampede. We pray for the safety of all South Africans, but equally the safety of all the pilgrims."

He has sent its condolences to the families of pilgrims killed in the stampede.

MJC president Ighsaan Hendricks says, "Sadly, we've seen the results of another stampede, immediately in my capacity as the president of the MJC. Our condolences go to those pilgrims that have died in the process."

Thursday is also Eid al-Adha, when Muslims slaughter a sheep. It has traditionally been the most dangerous day of hajj because vast numbers of pilgrims attempt to perform rituals at the same time in a single location.

Street 204 is one of the two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars.

"Work is underway to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes," the Saudi Civil Defence said on its Twitter account.

The pilgrimage, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of deadly stampedes in the past, as well as other disasters including tent fires and riots.

However, massive infrastructure upgrades and extensive spending on crowd control technology over the past two decades had made such events far less common.

South Africans in Mina have told Eyewitness News how they watched children as young as five suffocating in the crush.

Zayd Bayat is in Mecca with a group of at least 80 people from South Africa.

He has described how he managed to get away from the panicked crowd and tried to help others do the same.

But Bayat says he watched people collapse in the street due to the heat and dehydration.

"They were coming through and collapsing, so we tried to get out there to help them and to give them water."

We saw many people passing away in front of us; children, old people, adults and young people from many countries."

A South African woman says she was nearly trampled, after she tripped and fell in the crowd.

"I saw everything, we were crying. I saw people lying in the streets dead already; one on top of another. I saw children, babies."

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's Directorate of Civil Defense says two medical teams have been deployed to the tent city of Mina to provide emergency treatment for survivors of the crush.

The stampede happened during the ritual stoning of the devil, when pilgrims throw pebbles at three large pillars in Jamarat.

Mina provides temporary accommodation for pilgrims and has been the scene of other deadly disasters in the past, including tent fires and riots.

Earlier this month, a crane collapse in Mecca left another 109 people dead, with hundreds more injured.

To read EWN's analysis on the worst stampedes in the history of hajj, click here.