x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pilgrims collapse in 4-hour crush at rail platform

Pilgrims stuck in train station for hours with some collapsing and other losing consciousness. No injuries or dearths reported.

Pilgrims cast stones at the pillar in the rajem ritual. Those crushed had been going to Muzdalefa by metro to collect stones.
Pilgrims cast stones at the pillar in the rajem ritual. Those crushed had been going to Muzdalefa by metro to collect stones.

Haj pilgrims, including some from the UAE, yesterday collapsed in a crush at a Mount Arafat train station where they had been stuck for four hours.

They included three women who had been stuck in one of the station lifts for half an hour.

They spilt out unconscious when Civil Defence finally managed to free them. The pilgrims were trying to reach the Muzdalifah Valley to collect stones for the rajem ritual.

They decided to use Saudi Arabia's new Al Mashaer metro system that connects Haj sites. Hundreds gathered at a gate in the station and were told by station officers that a train would be along in 30 minutes.

But then an officer informed them they were at the wrong gate.

The pilgrims made their way to another gate and waited on the ramp leading up to it.

Doctors from the UAE Haj mission had to treat a pregnant woman who became distressed from the crush and lack of water and food, and another who was suffering from claustrophobia.

Meanwhile, a man collapsed and was revived by his fellow pilgrims with water.

The gate opened after the crowd had spent four hours of moving between crammed passageways, stairs and lifts. Men and women stood shoulder to shoulder in the platform corridor but the train did not arrive.

Women started collapsing. Doctors and other pilgrims assisted them as best as they could.

An Emirati woman, aged 30, had a panic attack, and a 26-year-old female pharmacist, also from the UAE, lost consciousness.

"I don't remember details but I couldn't feel the blood reach my head any more," she said later.

"I already have anaemia and while we were getting squeezed someone pushed my leg hard and it was hurting me."

The UAE medical team treated her - she would open her eyes for a few seconds and faint again.

One of the doctors started to collapse but a train finally arrived.

The collapsed woman was carried out by doctors, and pilgrims made way for her to enter amid squashing and pushing. But the queues were still long and pilgrims continued to wait in vain.

Most trains that showed up would either not stop or turned out to be for staff.

Messages such as "the company regrets the technical error" were also broadcast, but no one was on hand to guide pilgrims to an emergency exit.

The railway was brought in by Saudi authorities to reduce heavy congestion on the roads between pilgrimage locations, which had seen delays of more than 10 hours for distances that should take no more than 10 minutes by train.

Mohammed Obaid Al Mazrouei, chairman of the UAE Haj delegation told state news agency Wam that all UAE pilgrims were safe.

Mr Al Mazrouei said that the pilgrims were in Mina, Mount Arafat then travelled to Muzdalifah using the Mashaer train without providing further details on the incident.