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Haj crush- First person | And death lay in wait

TEN MINUTES was all it took for the stampede in Mina to leave behind a mountain of bodies, mostly of pilgrims from South Asia.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2006 11:26 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
PTI

TEN MINUTES was all it took for the stampede in Mina to leave behind a mountain of bodies, mostly of pilgrims from South Asia.

When I first set out for the Jamarat bridge around 5 a.m. to stone the devil's pillars, just minutes away from the media guesthouse, there was no sign of what lay ahead. Everything seemed normal. One could see two distinct flows of human traffic on the bridge: one moving towards east to stone the pillars, the other going to west (having completed the ritual).

Both waves of pilgrims were separated by the central line of the bridge, as it ought to be. Traditionally, stoning on the final day is supposed to be carried out between noon and sunset. However, a shia fatwa this year allowed more liberal timings, enabling shias to complete their stoning in the early hours of Thursday. Nevertheless, most sunnis preferred to stick to the traditional timings, which meant that some 80 lakh pilgrims would occupy the two-km bridge for four hours. And death lay in waiting.

By noon, the orderly crowd gave way to a sudden surge of pilgrims. The Saudi officials immediately pressed another fleet of choppers to monitor the crowd. The only way to detect a stampede is from the air, a medical officer told me. On ground, despite a 60,000 force of paramedics, scouts and policemen, it was difficult to make sense of the crowd.
Right after the noon prayers, an alert was sounded by the choppers over some four lakh pilgrims leaving the Masjid-e-Kaif.

First Published: Jan 14, 2006 11:26 IST