Page last updated at 18:03 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Saudi Arabia floods leave 77 dead

Hajj pilgrims negotiate flooded street
The Saudi authorities have warned pilgrims to take care in the rain

Floods in Saudi Arabia have killed 77 people and scores could be missing, after the heaviest rainfall in years.

None of the casualties had been among the millions attending the Hajj pilgrimage, said a spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry.

Heavy rainstorms on Wednesday had hampered the start of the annual Muslim event in the city of Mecca.

The flood deaths were in the port city of Jeddah, Rabigh and Mecca, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

It quotes officials as saying the deaths had been caused by flooding and collapsed homes. Witnesses said many of the victims were trapped in cars and buses.

Twenty-one of the dead were Saudis and the rest were foreign immigrants resident in the country, said Jeddah civil defence chief Abdullah al-Amri, quoted by the Associated Press.

The floods hit particularly hard in the shantytowns around the city, he added.

Scorching heat

The four-day Hajj pilgrimage draws more than three million people to Mecca from around the world.

After Wednesday's sudden downpours, the heat on Thursday was scorching as worshippers travelled to Mount Arafat, the desert plateau where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell sermon.

Huge crowds climbed the mountain to pray for God's forgiveness of their sins.

In the evening, they headed toward the next stage of the pilgrimage, the plains of Muzdalifah, where pilgrims pick stones for the symbolic stoning of the Devil, which begins on Friday.

Saudi authorities have warned pilgrims to take care in the rain.

Fatal stampedes have marred the pilgrimage in the past.

Correspondents say rains are common at the Hajj, but this year they have been much heavier than usual.

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