Makkah (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi authorities have begun an investigation after a crane collapsed on the Masjid al-Haram (the sacred mosque) in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, killing at least 107 people. Meanwhile, local hospitals are busy coping with the more than 240 injured people.
As rescue teams remain at the site of the tragedy, the death toll is expected to rise.
The city is Islam’s most sacred place and is preparing to welcome millions of Muslims from around the world for the annual hajj, the pilgrimage that every believer is invited to make at least once in his or her life.
The huge red crane crashed into a part of the Grand Mosque, which was filled with worshippers at the time for Friday prayers.
The inquiry is taking place as criticism grows over safety standards at the holy site.
The head of Saudi Arabia's civil defence agency, Lt Sulayman Bin-Abdullah al-Amr, said the city was hit by unusually strong winds (up to almost 90 kph) and heavy rains shortly before the crane came crashing down.
Irfan Al-Alawi, from the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, told the BBC that the Grand Mosque is currently surrounded by 15 large cranes amid major redevelopment work. "The entire area is like a salvage yard," Mr Al-Alawi said.
Saudi authorities began a major expansion of the site last year to increase the mosque’s area by 400,000 square metres, to allow it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once.
More than three million people undertook the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah in 2012. Saudi authorities have taken steps since 2013 to limit the number of people involved.
Large numbers of people have resulted in several tragedies over the years.