The nationalities of the victims were not known and it was not also clear whether Nigerians were among them as at the time of filing this report.
The incident occurred during a heavy rainfall which was preceded by strong wind and massive storm after pilgrims had observed the Asr prayer which was observed around 4pm.
An eyewitness said one of the cranes being used for construction was hit by a thunderstorm during the rainfall and then fell on one the pillars around the Ka’abba where thousands of pilgrims were circumambulating the holy house.
A witness said several pilgrims were feared dead after the pillar fell into their midst while they were performing the Tawaf (circumambulation) rites.
“I was inside (the mosque) when this happened. The rain was too much; the storm was too much. The crane fell on the people; it shook the mosque. I can’t say the actual number of victims but many people were on the ground, injured. It was very serious,” the witness said.
Security operatives involved in rescue of the dead and the injured told reporters that at least scores of pilgrims were confirmed dead while several others sustained serious injuries.
Though there has not been official statements on the death toll and casualty figures, medics and eyewitnesses put the dead at 87 and injured at 180. Ambulances were also seen taking the dead and injured away.
According to statistics from the Passport Department, 796,581 pilgrims have so far arrived in Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage that begins in another 10 days.
“Of them 780,474 pilgrims arrived by air, 9,039 by land and 7,068 by sea,” a statement from the department said.
Over 51, 000 nigerians are already in saudi arabia too for the hajj
The government said it has taken extraordinary measures to ensure a safe Hajj exercise.
Among the foreign pilgrims are 100,000 each from India and Pakistan.
Prior to the tragic incident, the Saudi Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques has said that all expansion projects for this year’s Hajj were on schedule.
The projects are part of the vision of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and the country’s government to ensure that Makkah and Madinah are world class cities, to enable pilgrims perform their religious rites safely.
The construction taking place on the ground floors of the two holy mosques, including escalators, would be ready for the hajj starting later this month, the presidency said recently, according to a report in a local newspaper.
The first floor in Makkah would be able to accommodate 278,000 worshippers. The mataf (or the circumambulation area around the Ka’abba, would take 114,000 people, the report said.
The first floor air conditioning covers 5,000 square meters; while the area for wheelchairs on Ajyad bridge would be canopied. 600 fans would be operational in the courtyards of the Grand Mosque.
And in the Prophet’s Mosque, there would be 250 umbrellas fitted, with more than 20,000 toilets. Both mosques would have 6,000 areas for ablution in the courtyards, the report said.
In Makkah, the floor on the roof of the Grand Mosque was sceduled to be completed before the end of the month to allow pilgrims to perform the tawaf, the circumambulation around the Kaaba. The space created is over 76,000 square meters, with a capacity to handle 107,000 people.
Meanwhile the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has said it is working to ascertain if Nigerians were among the victims of the disaster.
NAHCON coordinator in Makkah and chairman of the transport committee, Dr Aliyu Tanko told reporters on telephone last night that officials of the commission are at the site of the accident and also working with the Saudi authorities to verify if Nigerians were involved.
Five Nigerians were confirmed dead due to natural causes in Makkah and Madinah recently.
Madinah coordinator, Dr Bello Tambuwal confirmed the figure in an earlier interview with newsmen. -Leadership