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Saudi Arabia Says 453 Pilgrims Dead in Hajj Stampede

In this image posted on the official Twitter account of the directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense agency, a pilgrim is treated after a stampede in the holy city of Mina on Sept. 24, 2015. (Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense agency via AP)
In this image posted on the official Twitter account of the directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense agency, a pilgrim is treated after a stampede in the holy city of Mina on Sept. 24, 2015. (Directorate of the Saudi Civil Defense agency via AP)

MINA, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia's civil defense directorate says at least 453 people were killed in a stampede on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca during the annual hajj pilgrimage. Thursday's crush happened in Mina, a large valley about five kilometers (three miles) from Mecca that has been the site of hajj stampedes in years past. Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns. The Saudi civil defense directorate says the stampede occurred in a morning surge of pilgrims at the intersection of streets 204 and 223 as the faithful were making their way toward a large structure overlooking the columns. It says at least 719 other pilgrims were injured in the stampede.

Amateur video shared on social media showed a horrific scene, with scores of bodies -- the men dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during hajj -- lying amid crushed wheelchairs and water bottles along a sunbaked street.

Survivors assessed the scene from the top of roadside stalls near white tents as rescue workers in orange and yellow vests combed the area.

Photos released by the directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the tents.

Some 2 million people are taking part in this year's hajj pilgrimage, which began Tuesday.

Saudi authorities take extensive precautions to ensure the security of the hajj and the safety of pilgrims. But tragedies are not uncommon.

The stampede was the deadliest disaster at the hajj since 2006, when more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in the same area. Another stampede at Mina in 2004 left 244 pilgrims dead and hundreds injured.

Thursday's stampede happened less than two weeks after a giant construction crane came crashing down on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the focal point of the hajj.

That accident, on Sept. 11, killed at least 111 people and injured more than 390. Authorities blamed the crane collapse on high winds during an unusually powerful storm.

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