Hundreds reportedly die during Saudi Hajj pilgrimage

Hundreds of people died during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia as the faithful faced intense high temperatures at Islamic holy sites in the desert kingdom, officials say.

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat during the Hajj 2024 pilgrimage. EPA/STRINGER

Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat during the Hajj 2024 pilgrimage. EPA/STRINGER

Saudi Arabia has not commented on the death toll amid the heat during the pilgrimage, required of every able Muslim once in their life, nor offered any causes for those who died.

However, hundreds of people had lined up at the Emergency Complex in al-Muaisem neighbourhood in Mecca, trying to get information about their missing family members.

One list circulating online suggested at least 550 people died during the five-day Hajj.

A medic who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss information not released publicly by the government said that the names listed appeared genuine.

That medic and another official who also spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason said they believed at least 600 bodies were at the facility.

Deaths are not uncommon at the Hajj, in which at times more than two million people travel to Saudi Arabia.

There have also been stampedes and epidemics through the pilgrimage’s history.

Each year, the Hajj draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from low-income countries, “many of whom have had little, if any, pre-Hajj health care,” according to an article in the April edition of the Journal of Infection and Public Health.

Communicable illnesses can spread among the gathered masses, many of whom save their entire lives for the pilgrimage and can be elderly with pre-existing health conditions, it said.

However, the number of dead this year suggests something caused the fatalities to swell.

Several countries have said some of their pilgrims died because of the heat that swept across the holy sites at Mecca, including Jordan and Tunisia.

Khalid Bashir Bazaz, an Indian pilgrim, speaking near the Grand Mosque on Wednesday, said he “saw a lot of people collapsing to the ground unconscious” during this year’s Hajj.

Temperatures on Tuesday reached 47C in Mecca and the sacred sites in and around the city, according to the Saudi National Centre for Meteorology.

Some people fainted while trying to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil.

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Many Egyptians said they lost track of their loved ones in the heat and the crowds.

More than 1.83 million Muslims performed the Hajj in 2024, including more than 1.6 million from 22 countries and about 222,000 Saudi citizens and residents, according to the Saudi Hajj authorities.

On Wednesday at the medical complex in Mecca, an Egyptian man broke down when he heard his mother was among the dead.

He cried for some time before grabbing his mobile phone and calling their travel agent.

“He left her to die,” he shouted, referring to the agent.

The crowd tried to calm him down.

Security appeared tight at the complex, with an official reading out names of the dead and the nationalities, which included people from Algeria, Egypt and India.

Those who said they were kin of the dead were allowed inside to identify the deceased.

The Associated Press could not independently confirm the causes of death for the people whose bodies were held at the complex.

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