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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 21:59 GMT
Mecca disaster toll rises to 76
Dozens of rescuers were sent to the scene with heavy lifting gear

The number of dead after a building collapse in the Saudi holy city of Mecca has risen to 76, an interior ministry official has said.

More than 60 were injured as the hostel for pilgrims collapsed on Thursday.

Rescue operations ended late on Friday after teams worked through Thursday night searching for anyone trapped.

More than three million Muslims are in Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage and people were praying in nearby streets when the building collapse occurred.

The building - on al-Ghazal Street - is only 60m from the walls of Mecca's Great Mosque - and was used by foreign pilgrims.

The Saudi interior ministry said that as many as 40 bodies remained unidentified.

Jordanians, Tunisians and at least seven Algerians living in France were among those killed, and there were reports that several Yemenis also died.

'Like an earthquake'

Survivors described the chaos as the building, which was at least four floors high, began to crumble.

Man injured in Mecca building collapse is taken away o a stretcher
The hostel that collapsed was said to be used by poor pilgrims
"I heard one big noise," Tayeb Mizasha, 70, told the AFP news agency.

"At first I thought it was an earthquake. I do not know where my wife is," said the Algerian pilgrim.

Egyptian Rajab al-Sayed, 46, told how his party were engulfed as the hostel tumbled down.

"We were walking back from noon prayers and suddenly debris started falling down on us.

"We ran for our lives and two of my friends were taken down by the crowd."

Prayers

The hotel is surrounded by markets but many pilgrims were away praying at the time of the collapse. Many of the casualties were passers-by and local traders.

Eyewitnesses say they heard a huge cracking sound before the four-storey building toppled onto worshippers streaming out of the eastern gates of the mosque.

Reports said an unnamed official had suggested the foundations of the hotel had been cracked and weak. A regional civil defence director backed up this theory.

But the hotel's operator insisted that the structure was 25 years old and safe.

Mecca, Islam's holiest city, has been marred by tragic incidents during previous Hajj pilgrimages.

Deadly stampedes are relatively common. They killed 251 people in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.


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SEE ALSO:
Diary of the Hajj
05 Jan 06 |  Middle East
What is the Hajj?
18 Jan 05 |  Middle East
Hundreds killed in Hajj stampede
01 Feb 04 |  Middle East
Fourteen killed in Hajj stampede
11 Feb 03 |  Middle East
Hajj ends peacefully
24 Feb 02 |  Middle East



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