Issa Camara's phone has not stopped ringing. Last Thursday, the Malian man’s sister was among the thousands of pilgrims participating in the last event of the hajj, the pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca.
Now, friends and relatives keep calling, asking whether she survived that day’s stampede in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Health Ministry said 769 died after two streams of pilgrims converged on a narrow, dusty road. Some were trampled to death; others suffocated. They had come from throughout the Muslim world.
Camara said when he heard about the incident, he immediately called his brother who was in Mecca. The brother said he, his wife and younger brother were OK, but their younger sister was still missing and he was trying to find her.
They were among some 9,000 Malians who made the pilgrimage. The Bamako government has released a list of hundreds of missing Malians. Travel agencies and local media say between 30 and 50 of them could have been killed.
"People are looking for their relatives in hospitals and morgues," said Mahmoud, a Malian travel agent who arrived last week in Mecca.
Speaking by phone from there, he said at least 300 Malians are missing and may be among the dead. "The authorities collect photos of those killed to help the identification, but it is impossible to get correct figures."
Saudi officials on Tuesday said they’d distributed almost 1,100 photos to foreign diplomats in a quest to identify victims, the Associated Press reported. The officials said the photos show not only the 769 reportedly killed at Mina – the neighborhood near Mecca – but also some of the 111 people who died when a crane overturned, crashing into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, on September 11.
Meanwhile, some Malians are posting photos of missing relatives on Facebook, hoping someone will recognize them on the social media site.
Taxi driver Ousmane Dieng said his niece was killed, but he has not learned the status of other relatives.
"Up to now, we rely on the information in the newspapers," he said, adding that Malians are still waiting for official word from the government.
Mali sent official delegation
Mali’s government has sent a delegation to Mecca. Officials said they would notify victims’ families before releasing information to the public.
An estimated 2 million people from 180 countries made the pilgrimage to Mecca this year, fewer than in recent years, the AP reported. Able-bodied Muslims have a religious duty to perform the five-day pilgrimage once in their lifetime. The hajj routinely poses a logistical challenge for the kingdom, though most years it passes without major incident.
Some material for this report was provided by the Associated Press.