Saudi Arabian authorities say 717 people are confirmed dead and more than 800 others are injured after a stampede in Mina, just outside the holy city of Mecca, The Associated Press reports.
The worshippers were making their way to Mecca on the third day of Hajj, the pilgrimage that all Muslims are required to undertake at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able. This year, according to the BBC, 2 million people from around the world undertook the journey. At Mina, pilgrims stop to throw small stones at three pillars, to symbolize Abraham stoning the devil. There are some 160,000 tents set up in the town to provide shelter and rest along the way.
"I saw the ambulances, I saw bodies….At least 20, 30 ambulances passed me by," one pilgrim, Ethar El-Katatney, told CNN on her way to the pillars.
In the last four decades, the number of pilgrims arriving in Mina for the ritual has increased dramatically, according to Slate, with the path leading up to the three pillars becoming more crowded despite Saudi government building a bridge to make access easier and providing more security. Stampedes and deaths at the site have happened in previous years, but this is the most destructive in several decades.
Local news outlets are reporting that the Saudi government is blaming pilgrims for the deaths:
The Iranian Hajj authority blames the Saudi government for the disaster, the AP writes, with 21 Iranian pilgrims among those who died. The deaths come just two weeks after a crane crashed into Mecca's Grand Mosque during a storm, killing 107 people.