NEW: American pilgrim says accident won't stop her from going to Mecca
Storm was so strong, it uprooted trees and broke windows in Mecca
Construction cranes surround the Grand Mosque, which is undergoing expansions
A construction crane crashed through the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 107 people and casting a grim shadow on a yearly pilgrimage that draws millions to Saudi Arabia.
At least 238 others suffered injuries when a powerful storm toppled the crane, according to the nation’s civil defense authorities.
The crane fell 10 days before the start of the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage expected to bring 2 million people to Mecca.
The mosque is the largest in the world and surrounds Islam’s holiest site known as the Kaaba.
‘Everybody was pushing’
Photos and video on social media showed the crane crashing through the mosque roof and the aftermath, with bodies, blood and debris spread across the courtyard.
The ruler gave his condolences to the victims’ families and vowed to investigate the cause of the accident. He also visited a hospital where he wished the wounded a speedy recovery.
Will the accident deter pilgrims? One American says it won’t stop her.
“My main concern is safety issues that arise with such a big crowd,” said Faten Abdelfattah, 32, of Texas, who was leaving Saturday. “It’s a reminder to put my trust in God and that I can’t stop death if it’s my time whether I’m there or sleeping safely in bed.”
She thinks the Saudi government will take extra precautions.
“I feel more comfortable after learning that they prevented pilgrims from entering the [site of the Kaaba] to check on construction equipment,” she told CNN. “I believe they have the pilgrims’ best interests in mind and after the incident they won’t leave anything to chance.”
Witnesses posted photos and video on social media showing the crane crashing through the mosque roof. Scores of bodies, blood and debris lay scattered across the courtyard.
“We just washed and were getting ready to head to the Masjid al-Haram for the Maghrib prayer (sunset prayer),” said Yahya Al Hashemi, 30, a CNN iReporter who shot iPhone video of the crane striking the roof of the mosque.
“It was a sandstorm which turned to rainstorm and lot of the construction covering boards were flying around, and lots of cracking noises which unfortunately ended with this tragedy. … Everybody was pushing trying to escape from inside towards the exits,” Al Hashemi said.
A strong thunderstorm developed over Mecca at about 4 p.m. local time Friday (9 a.m. ET), bringing gusty winds that shifted direction and caused the local temperature to drop from 42 to 25 degrees Celsius (107.6 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit), CNN meteorologists reported.
Trees uprooted, glass broken
The storm was so strong, it uprooted trees and broke windows throughout Mecca, said Khaled Al-Maeena, editor at the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah.
The crane fell during a lull in visitors at the mosque, he said.
“Had it happened an hour later it would have been much worse,” he said. “Had it happened five hours earlier or four hours earlier, I think the death toll would have been more than a thousand.
Construction cranes surround the Grand Mosque, which is being enlarged to make the pilgrimage more manageable, he said
“The irony is that all this expansion was being done to see to the welfare of the pilgrims,” he said.
At least 12 Egyptian pilgrims were injured, the Egyptian health ministry said. Ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar told Ahram Online that two were in critical condition. India’s external affairs ministry received reports nine of its pilgrims were injured, a ministry spokesman said Friday via Twitter.
Victims from various nations
Nations scrambled to account for their pilgrims after the crash.
The Egyptian health ministry said 12 of its nationals were injured while India said it received reports that nine of its pilgrims were wounded.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that 22 of its nationals were hospitalized in Saudi Arabia with severe injuries. Pakistani embassy officials are headed to Mecca from Riyadh to find out if there were any fatalities.
Saudi officials have not released a breakdown of the nationalities of the casualties.
No stranger to tragedies
Tragedy has hit Mecca before, often because of the throngs of people there for the Hajj.
In 2006, a stampede killed at least 363 people. That stampede, like others in the past, happened during a stone-throwing ritual in which the pilgrims stone a symbolic devil.
Hundreds were killed in stampedes in 2004 and 1998 and 1,426 died in 1990.
Islam requires every Muslim who is physically and financially able to make the journey to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
Hajj occurs two months and 10 days after Ramadan ends, during the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah.
Nearly 800,000 pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia by this week for Hajj, authorities said.
CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz, Samira Said, Sophia Saifi, Hamdi Alkhshali and Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report.