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April 10, 1998 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1998-04-10

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 10, 1998 - 5

More than 100
pilgrims die
s "
at Hajj litua
MECCA. Saudi Arabia (AP) - Muslims rushing
to fulfill a ritual known as "stoning the devil" set off
a huge stampede yesterday that reportedly killed
150 pilgrims, most of them elderly, on the last day
of the annual pilgrimage known as the hajj.
Some of the victims had sat down to rest on an ele-
vated walkway in the 100-degree heat while waiting to
move toward the site for the ritual. They were tram-
pled from behind by fellow pilgrims when word came
that the group could move. Others were knocked off
the walkway and fell 17 feet to their deaths.
"If security forces had not intervened to stop the
rush, thousands of pilgrims would have died," a
Mecca police official said on condition of anonymity.
A doctor who saw the stampede told The
Associated Press that ais many as 600,000 pilgrims
were waiting for police to open the walkway so they
could cast their stones. Another doctor said an elder-
ly Moroccan woman was trampled so heavily that
her head was crushed.
There was no estimate of the number of
injuries, which doctors said included cuts and
broken bones. Police and doctors said those
killed were from Malaysia, Indonesia, India,
Pakistan and the Mideast.
The stampede took place in the desert plain at
Mina, about three miles from Mecca. To shield
themselves from the sun, pilgrims had covered their
heads with towels or carried umbrellas, some
inscribed with the phrase "God is great."
Ambulances rushed to the scene, and Saudi tele=
vision showed soldiers carrying a body out on a
stretcher. One soldier was trying to revive another
casualty whose 'face was covered by an oxygen
mask. Another offered water to an elderly man, who
grabbed the bottle with a trembling hand.
It was the latest tragedy to befall the hajj. which
has been bloodied by other stampedes, fires and
political protests that turned violent.
Saudi Arabia has invested millions to improve
security for the increasing number of Muslims who
make the pilgrimage. The hajj is required of all
Muslims at least once in a lifetime if they can afford
it, and some 2.3 million are in Mecca this year.
The pilgrims were preparing for a ritual
known as "stoning the devil," in which they
hurl pebbles at three pillars symbolizing the
temptations of Satan. Saudi officials say Asian

Transportation officials
to work on safety

transportation officials want to get reg-
ulators, airlines and manufacturers to
work in unison on safety problems
instead of just reacting to the most
recent crash. They are planning to lay
out a new safety agenda next week.
While the Federal Aviation
Administration and the Transportation
Department won't discuss the new agen-
da or even its precise roll-out date, the
number-one goal is expected to be elimi-
nating plane crashes that occur even
when there is nothing wrong with the air-
Such crashes accounted for 25 percent
of all of the commercial airplane acci-
dents worldwide from 1987 to 1996 -
killing 2,396 people, the FAA said. That
does not include the 228 people killed in
last summer's crash of a Korean Air
jumbo jet on Guam, in which investiga-
tors believe a perfectly operating plane

was flown into the side of a mountain.
Aviation experts call the phenome-
non "controlled flight into terrain."
One possible remedy is the mandato-
rv installation of advanced ground-
warning indicators in airplanes. A few
airlines are already installing them.
Some industry and aviation watchdog
groups have been calling for years for ae
unified approach to aviation safety, argu-
ing that setting priorities in response to
crashes diverts resources from the prob-
lems that kill the most people.
"Tragic and dramatic as the crash of
TWA 800 was, exploding fuel tanks are
very, very rare," said Stuart Matthews,,
president of the Flight Safety
Foundation, a group that brings together
figures from the airlines and aircraft
"We need to go after the major pob-
lems, not the 'safety issue du jour,' if
you know what I mean," he said.

Pilgrims walk around the grand mosque and the kabaa in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, yesterday, the final day of
the annual Muslim pilgrimage, hajj. At the nearby Mina, a stampede broke out.

Muslims tend not to believe in a symbolic
throw and rush to get close enough for their
pebbles to strike the pillars.
Saudi officials said on condition of anonymity
that the death toll was more than 150. The official
Saudi Press Agency said 107 died.
Last year, fires driven by high winds tore through a
sprawling, overcrowded tent city at Mina, trapping
and killing more than 340 pilgrims and injuring 1.500.
In 1994, 270 pilgrims, most of them Indonesians.
were killed in a similar stampede during the stoning
of the devil ritual.
In the hajj's worst tragedy, 1,426 pilgrims, many
of them Malaysians, Indonesian and Pakistanis,
were killed in 1990 in a stampede in an overcrowd-
ed pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.
The number of persons making the hajj has mul-
tiplied many times over in recent decades, taxing
facilities to the limit.
Before World War II, when most pilgrims still
came by desert caravan, the number at the hajj

was a few as 10,000. Buses and airplanes --as
well as rising wealth in the Muslim world -
have enabled millions to converge on Mecca for
the pilgrimage.
The Saudis have sought to limit the crowds. Since
1987. they have enforced a quota that allows just 0.1
percent of each country's Muslim population to
make the hajj. Some Muslims complain they must
wait for years for permits.
Thousands of Saudi police are assigned to guard
the pilgrimage routes and scores of government vol-
unteers move with the pilgrims to assist them.
Saudi authorities set up 6,000 hospital beds this
year and called in more than 10,000 doctors to
attend to the sick. Dozens of first aid workers rode
motorbikes to provide emergency help.
Before the stampede, helicopters had been
circling Mina to try to spot pilgrims overcome
by the heat. Workers threw small bags of chilled
water from trucks to those making their way to
the pillars.

- ;. r ' 1

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