Death toll in Mecca Grand Mosque crane crash rises to 87

The death toll in the crane accident in Mecca’s Masjid Al Haram has risen to 87, the head of Saudi Arabia’s civil defense authority told Al Ikhbariya television.

He said 183 people had been injured in the accident on Friday, just weeks before Hajj.

Al Arabiya television earlier said the crane had fallen because of strong storms – western Saudi Arabia has been hit by strong sand storms in the last few days.

Pictures circulating on social media showed pilgrims in bloodied robes and masses of debris from a part of the crane that seemed to have crashed through a ceiling.

Aftermath of the crane collapse

Saudi authorities go to great lengths to prepare for the millions of Muslim who converge on Mecca to perform the sacred pilgrimage.

Last year, it reduced the numbers permitted to perform Hajj for safety reasons because of construction work to enlarge the mosque.

The pilgrimage, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, has been prone to disasters in the past, mainly from stampedes as pilgrims rushed to complete rituals and return home.

Hundreds of pilgrims died in such a stampede in 2006.

Saudi authorities have since lavished vast sums to expand the main Hajj sites and improve Mecca’s transportation system, in an effort to prevent more disasters.

Security services often ring Islam’s sacred city with checkpoints and other measures to prevent people arriving for the pilgrimage without authorisation.

Those procedures, aimed at reducing crowd pressure, whichv can lead to stampedes, fires and other hazards, have been intensified in recent years as security threats grow throughout the Middle East.