The death toll from a stampede on Thursday during the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia has risen to 717 people of various nationalities. It's the worst disaster to strike the annual event in a quarter of a century. Mana Rabiee reports.
As Saudi emergency crews scramble to help the injured, the sheer scope of the fatalities becomes more clear. Authorities say the death toll in the haj stampede near Mecca has risen to well over 700 pilgrims. Scores more -- at least 800 -- are also reported injured in the crush. Survivors described a scene of chaos in what's now the worst haj disaster in 25 years. (SOUNDBITE)(Arabic) PILGRIM FROM EGYPT, AMAL FAYAD, SAYING: "They (the pilgrims) began pushing each other and they pushed people to the ground. I was about to die." Some two million Muslim pilgrims are converging on Mecca for what's the largest annual gathering of people in the world. Saudi TV showed the main crossroads at the camp city of Mina, a little east of Mecca, where authorities say two large groups of people were arriving at the same time, just before the stampede happened. Such disasters have hit the annual pilgrimage before and the government has spent billions of dollars to revamp haj infrastructure. Haj safety is a politically sensitive issue in the kingdom, where the ruling Al Saud dynasty presents itself as the custodian of Islam's holiest site.