How strange that just as I was writing yesterday’s blog about the crane collapse that killed more than 100 pilgrims in Mecca, an even worse disaster was unfolding at the Hajj, with a stampede killing at least 717.
It happened at the last major rite, when pilgrims throw stones at pillars representing the devil. This event has caused major casualties before – at least 118 died in 1998, and about 250 in 2004. After the latest accident, the Saudi Arabian king, Salman, has promised a safety review, but already countries who have lost people, such as Nigeria and Iran, are blaming the Saudis.
Iran has been particularly vocal, just as it was after the even more deadly Mecca stampede of 1990 in which more than 1,400 perished in a pedestrian tunnel. The then Saudi king, Fahd, said that those who died had been ‘martyrs’ and the accident ‘God’s will’, though he added that the pilgrims had disobeyed safety instructions. The Saudi health minister has made a similar claim this time.
The deadliest stampede in history may be the one that happened at a huge air raid shelter in the Chinese city of Chungking as Japanese aircraft attacked on 6 June 1941. The shelter’s ventilation system failed, and during an apparent lull in the bombing, hundreds rushed outside for a breath of air. Then the sirens sounded again, leading to a fatal crush that killed perhaps 4,000 as people still trying to get out collided with others frantic to return.
For more, see A Disastrous History of the World.