- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: Hostel collapse kills 53 during the annual haj in Mecca
- Date: 6th January 2006
- Summary: TRACK: VICTIM REMOVED ON STRETCHER
- Embargoed: 21st January 2006 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes,Religion
- Reuters ID: LVAN9MI9Q7I1HKP7LBZQGCYS9PB
- Story Text: At least 53 people died in the collapse of a Muslim pilgrims' hostel in Saudi Arabia, the first tragedy to beset the haj pilgrimage this year, a Saudi official said on Friday (January 6).
The Interior Minister official said the number of dead could rise as rescue teams clear the rubble of the building, which collapsed on Thursday (January 5) in the Muslim holy city of Mecca where more than a million pilgrims have gathered.
The official put the number of injured at 62. The building was at least six storeys high and 30 years old.
The tragedy occurred days before Sunday's start of the five-day haj, when 2.5 million Muslims cram into the mountain city where Islam was born.
Deadly stampedes, attacks by Islamist militants or the possibility that a dangerous virus, a strain bird flu, could spread through the crowds like wildfire are three eventualities worrying the Saudi organisers of this year's pilgrimage. Some 250 pilgrims died in a stampede in 2004 during the stoning of three stone pillars which symbolise the devil.
But pilgrims gathering on Friday (January 6) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca said they were elated to be able to do haj, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim at least once in a lifetime.
Many pilgrims come from Asian countries, where the H5N1 form of bird flu has killed more than 70 people since 2003.Three children in Turkey, which has a large haj contingent, have died from the virus in recent days.
Saudi Arabia says it has spent 25 million riyals ($6.7 million) on Tamiflu a drug that can reduce the flu's severity if taken within days of symptoms showing.
The authorities, also wary of any militant attacks, have deployed a record 60,000 security men.
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