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Saudi Arabia Orders Hajj Review After Deadly Stampede

Saudi Arabia Draws Fire for Deadly Stampede
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Related report by Zlatica Hoke - Saudi Arabia Draws Fire for Deadly Stampede

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has ordered a review of annual Hajj pilgrimage procedures after a stampede on the outskirts of Mecca killed at least 717 people and injured more than 900 others.

Video from the scene Thursday showed bodies strewn across the ground alongside the wounded and weeping in Mina, five kilometers east of Mecca.

The faithful visit the site to throw rocks at pillars representing the devil in a final ritual before beginning the Eid al-Adha holiday.

As foot traffic flowed one way mid-morning, a small group turned around, creating an unintentional clash that crushed men and women, old and young, reporter Nasiru Adamu El-Hikaya told VOA from the scene of the stampede.

The crush of worshippers took place outside the religious site at Mina. More than 160,000 tents are set up nearby to house Hajj visitors.

The stampede is the second mass fatality for pilgrims this month following a crane collapse that killed 109 people in Mecca.

In a televised speech, King Salman ordered a review of Hajj organization, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who chairs the kingdom's Hajj committee, also has ordered an official investigation, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The country's Health Minister Khalid al-Falih blamed pilgrims, saying they failed to follow instructions from authorities.

By Thursday evening, emergency workers had removed nearly all of the bodies to nearby hospitals, where authorities are trying to identify the deceased, El-Hikaya said. Countries are reviewing their lists of visiting pilgrims to help determine who the victims are.

The official estimate of Hajj participants is around 2 million, with unofficial figures as high as 3 million.

Multiple deadly stampedes have happened during Hajj before, as millions gather from around the world for the multi-day event required once of Muslims who are physically and financially able to make the journey to Mecca.

The worst disaster happened in 1990 when a stampede in a Mina tunnel killed more than 1,400 people. Similar accidents occurred in 1994, 2004 and 2006, each killing more than 200 people.

VOA's Hausa service contributed to this report.