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DFA confirms one Filipino died in Saudi stampede

/ 06:21 AM September 26, 2015
Charles-Jose

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman and Assistant Secretary Charles Jose. AFP FILE PHOTO

The Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah confirmed Friday night that a Filipino pilgrim based in Saudi Arabia was among the more than 700 fatalities in the stampede that marred the annual hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca on Thursday.

But Foreign Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Charles Jose said in a text message that the “the personal circumstances of the victim (were) being withheld on the request of the family.”

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A separate report on Friday said two other Filipinos died in Mecca, but that their deaths were not related to the stampede.

The stampede broke out in the tent city of Mina, a neighborhood of Islam’s holiest city of Mecca, during the surge of pilgrims on Thursday morning. Saudi authorities placed the death toll at more than 717, with at least 863 other pilgrims from different countries injured.

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Worst tragedy in 25 years

The disaster has been described as the worst tragedy to strike the annual Muslim pilgrimage in a quarter of a century. It was the second deadly accident to hit worshippers this month, after a crane collapsed in Mecca killing more than 100 on Sept. 11.

At the scene, bodies lay in piles, surrounded by discarded personal belongings and flattened water bottles, while rescue workers laid bodies in long rows on stretchers, limbs protruding from beneath white sheets.

The stampede broke out during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, said to emulate the action of the Prophet Abraham who stoned the devil when the latter tried to dissuade him from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had converged on Mina to throw pebbles at one of three walls representing Satan, for the last major ritual of the hajj which officially ends on Sunday.

Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih blamed worshippers for the tragedy, saying that if “the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided.”

Heat and fatigue

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Interior ministry spokesperson General Mansur al-Turki said the stampede was caused when “a large number of pilgrims were in motion at the same time” at an intersection of two streets in Mina. “The great heat and fatigue of the pilgrims contributed to the large number of victims,” he said.

Temperatures in Mina had reached 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday.

Witnesses, however, blamed the authorities, and said the police were not properly trained and lacked the language skills to communicate with foreign pilgrims, who make up the majority of those on the hajj.

“They don’t have a clue how to engage with these people,” said Irfan al-Alawi, cofounder of the Mecca-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation.

“There’s no crowd control,” he added.

After the incident, helicopters patrolled overhead and ambulance sirens wailed as the injured were rushed to hospitals.

Iran announced that 90 of its nationals were among the victims, and accused regional rival Saudi Arabia of safety errors. Pilgrims at the site also blamed the authorities and said they were afraid to continue the annual religious ritual.

Iran’s pilgrimage organization placed the number at 131 Iranians killed at the stampede, and said the Saudi government must “accept the huge responsibility for this catastrophe.”

King Salman ordered “a revision” of hajj organization, the official Saudi Press Agency said, while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayyef, who chairs the kingdom’s hajj committee, started an inquiry.

The disaster came as the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims marked Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday on the Islamic calendar.

The hajj is among the five pillars of Islam, and every capable Muslim must perform it at least once in a lifetime. Official figures released on Thursday said 1,952,817 pilgrims had performed the ritual this year, including almost 1.4 million foreigners.

In the last major incident, in January 2006, 364 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual, and in 1990, 1,426 mainly Asian pilgrims died in a tunnel stampede at Mina after a ventilation system failure. With a report from AFP

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TAGS: Charles Jose, Department of Foreign Affairs, DFA, Hajj Pilgirmage, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Stampede
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