This Article is From Nov 26, 2009

Saudi floods kill 77 while Muslims perform Haj

Saudi floods kill 77 while Muslims perform Haj

AFP Image

Mount Arafat, Saudi Arabia: Muslim pilgrims holding white umbrellas against the blazing sun clambered up a rocky desert hill for prayers today during the annual Haj, following a day of torrential rains that killed at least 77 people.

Flooding from the unusually heavy downpours hit hardest in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, about 60 kilometres away from the holy city of Mecca and its surrounding sacred sites where three million Muslims from around the world were performing the rites of the pilgrimage.

Most of the deaths occurred in Jeddah, where streets were swamped with water, some houses collapsed and mudslides took place, and in areas around the main highway to Mecca, Civil Defence officials said.

It did not immediately appear that any pilgrims were among the dead. Jeddah's civil defense chief Capt Abdullah al-Amri said 21 of the victims were identified as Saudis and the rest were believed to be residents of Saudi Arabia.

Yesterday's downpours snarled the opening day of the Haj, drenching pilgrims and knocking out roads that caused epic traffic jams as the faithful tried to make their way to the holy sites.

The rains, if they continue as meteorologists predict, could raise safety hazards -- particularly the perennial danger of deadly stampedes, since a trip-up on slippery walkways could lead to people getting trampled in crowds.