I have never seen such a disaster in my 21 Haj trips, says tour operator
As a Haj tour operator, Naseer Ahmed Ansari has been to Mecca 21 times, but never before had he seen such chaos as there was during Thursday’s stampede.
Millions of people head to Mecca every year for the Haj pilgrimage, where strict schedules and routes are maintained to ensure that too many people don’t crowd together at a time. It was a break in this careful scheduling that led to yesterday’s stampede that killed at least 717 pilgrims.
This is the second tragedy to strike this fortnight, after a crane collapsed on the Grand Mosque at Mecca on September 11, killing over 100 Hajjis. Speaking to mid-day from Mecca, Naseer, who works with Jogeshwari-based Asia Tours and Travels, said that it was sheer chance that he and the 98 Hajjis he was leading did not get stuck in the stampede.
Fortunately, Naseer and his group were in a later time slot, which kept them away from the worst of the chaos. “We were in our tents, which are located around half-a-kilometre from the Jamat. There are five floors leading up to it, and the stampede had started on the first level.
Even while it was taking place, everything was under control on the ground floor and we only found out about the severity of the stampede later,” said Naseer, who resides in Andheri. “Our group was large, and if we had been scheduled for the stone pelting at the same time as the stampede, it could have been a major tragedy.
Apart from Mumbaikars, our group has people from all over India, and some from Dubai and Singapore as well,” he said. “I have never seen such a disaster in my 21 Haj trips,” said Naseer, adding that the entire city had slipped into a state of panic, and the sacred mood of the pilgrimage had been destroyed.
“All we hear the entire day is ambulance sirens. Police and military vehicles have been making rounds of the city. The situation at the Jamat is now under control. Those who are injured or those who have lost their loved ones are now following up with the authorities,” he told this paper.
Saeed Khan, Media professional, Srinagar
My parents Saeed Fazal (60) and Mehjabeen (55) were at the mosque when the incident occurred but have fortunately managed to escape unhurt. My mother suffered from minor injuries but she was moved to a local hospital. My father told me that the incident took place because a lot of people chose the wrong route to exit the premises. This caused a bottleneck that left no escape route for people stuck in the stampede.
Ashraf Wangnoo, Kashmir
My brother Yusuf Wangnoo (50) and sister-in-law Samie (45) were in Mecca at the time of the incident and have confirmed that they are safe. They had completed their rituals and were on their way to Madina when the incident took place. It was their first visit to the holy city.
Ejaz Shaikh, Travel operator, Panvel
Six of our distant relatives were at the spot when the incident took place. When we got to know about the incident, we started calling them but we haven’t able to get through. All their phones are switched off. We will visit the Haj House to enquire about their whereabouts.
Nilofer Kothari, Housewife, Surat
I had no idea about the stampede until my parents Rafiq Kothari (61) and Najma (58) called early in the morning and to inform me that they had escaped unhurt.