A massive crane collapsed and killed at least 107 people at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as the heavy equipment came crashing down on Friday worshipers.
The number of injured has risen to 238, according to Saudi authorities.
“Extreme weather” is the likely cause of the collapse, authorities said, with heavy rain, lightning strikes and high winds hitting the Muslim holy city on Friday about 6:30 p.m. Saudi time, just before the start of Friday prayers.
The crane blowing over and crashing into the world’s largest mosque was captured on video and posted to Youtube. Chaos ensued. Shouts of “Allah!” can be heard as people scramble for cover.
Pictures on Twitter show a gigantic crater in the middle of the mosque’s stone floor, with bodies scattered about and covered by debris.
Last year more than 2 million people completed the Hajj, and in 2012 the figure was more than 3 million.
The giant Binladin Group was heading up the nearly two-year construction project to enlarge the mosque by 4.3 million square feet, enough space to accommodate 2.2 million Muslim worshipers inside the mosque at one time.
The devastating crane crash comes on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America and less than two weeks ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, when millions of Muslims will converge on the “holy city” of Mecca Sept. 21-26. Many thousands of the pilgrims are already in the “holy” city, which is closed off to non-Muslims. One of the five pillars of Islam is that all Muslims who are able must make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life.
A photo reportedly taken just prior to the incident shows a bolt of lightning striking the crane.
There were nine Indian citizens, 16 Pakistanis and 15 Iranians reportedly among the dead.
Abdel Aziz Naqoor, an employee at the mosque, told AFP he saw the crane fall after being hit by the storm.
“If it weren’t for Al-Tawaf bridge the injuries and deaths would have been worse,” he said, referring to a covered walkway that surrounds the Kaaba, the massive cube structure in the center of the mosque, which he said broke the crane’s fall. The Kaaba is the central destination for pilgrims on the Hajj. They crowd in and perform a series of rituals, walking and running around the Kaaba counter-clockwise seven times, kissing it, and saying special prayers.
Disaster has struck in the past at Hajj, usually from stampedes as pilgrims rushed to complete rituals.
Up to 300 pilgrims died in a stampede in 2006 and in 2004 a stampede killed more than 200. The worst stampede, in 1990, left 1,400 people dead.
But this may be the first time an act of God has led to mass death at the Grand Mosque.
The Binladen Group was founded by Osama Bin Laden’s billionaire father Mohammed and the sprawling construction conglomerate runs a large amount of major building contracts in the Saudi kingdom.
Sixteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were Saudi Arabian nationals.
Photos taken from the scene and posted on social media showed bodies lying in blood on the mosque’s floor surrounded by construction rubble and metal parts of the crane.
More than 68 emergency and rescue groups were active at the scene of the accident, the Saudi Red Crescent said on Facebook.
The Saudi Kingdom’s general directorate of civil defense blamed the accident on severe storms, according to its official Twitter account.