The number of Indians to have died during the haj stampede has risen to 14, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Friday, as New Delhi stepped up efforts to assist the injured in the tragedy near the holy city of Mecca.
“Our consul general Jeddah reports loss of 14 Indian lives in stampede. We have 13 injured in hospital (sic),” Swaraj said in a tweet on Friday morning, a day after over 700 people and were killed in the worst disaster to strike the annual haj pilgrimage in 25 years.
“The exact number will be known after confirmation by Saudi authorities,” she said in another tweet.
Our Consul General Jeddah reports loss of 14 Indian lives in stampede. We have 13 injured in hospital. #Mecca— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) September 25, 2015
At least 863 others were injured in the incident during the stampede that took place when pilgrims were on their way to perform the “stoning of the devil” ritual in the holy city in Saudi Arabia, agency reports said.
The number of Indians dead in the accident rose sharply from the initial four after New Delhi rushed aide workers to help local authorities in the identification process.
Swaraj, who was in monitoring the rescue and possible evacuation of the injured later, had said in earlier tweets that “Indian volunteers have reached in large numbers and are assisting the local authorities”.
She said, “Our embassy officials have reported that the process of identification of bodies is on. This will take at least 24 hours.”
Watch: How the deadly Haj stampede near Mecca occurred
Eleven Indians had died around two weeks earlier when a massive crane fell in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing over 100 people and injuring over 200.
BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also said on Friday that the government was monitoring the situation in Saudi Arabia and “trying to help the people in best possible way.”
Thursday’s disaster was the worst to occur at the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims suffocated in a tunnel near Mecca. Both incidents occurred on Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Islam’s most important feast.
The haj, the world’s largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots in the past, but their frequency has been greatly reduced in recent years as the government spent billions of dollars upgrading and expanding haj infrastructure and crowd control technology.