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Archive for Saturday, January 7, 2006

Death toll from building collapse in Mecca reaches at least 76

January 7, 2006

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— Hundreds of men using cranes, hand tools and blow torches pulled bodies from the rubble of a four-story building that collapsed in Islam's holiest city, and authorities said Friday the death toll reached at least 76.

The Saudi Interior Ministry also said Thursday's collapse injured 62. The nationalities of the victims were not released.

The disaster marred the start of the annual gathering of millions of Muslims for the hajj pilgrimage that begins Monday. More than 1 million attended Friday prayers in the Grand Mosque, which is just 200 feet from the building that collapsed.

On Friday afternoon, about 24 hours after the collapse, workers called off the search for survivors in the pile of concrete and steel. The building had shops and restaurants and was used as a hotel during the hajj.

"We did all we can. The operation is now over," said the general in charge of the site, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Hundreds of men had worked through Thursday night, under spotlights and with cranes and blow torches, to remove huge slabs of concrete, occasionally stopping to use microphones to listen for survivors. While people were rescued Thursday, workers found nobody alive Friday.

"Fortunately, the building was almost empty when it collapsed, because most of the residents were in the holy shrine," civil defense Maj. Gen. Alwani, who did not provide his first name, told state-run Al-Ekhbariya television. "Most of the casualties were from the passers-by."

An unidentified government official told Al-Ekhbariya the building's foundations were cracked and weak.

However, the operator of the hotel, Habib Turkestani, a relative of the Saudi owner, told The Associated Press the structure was safe.

"What happened was a matter of fate and divine decree," Turkestani said.

He said the hotel guests included 18 French citizens of Tunisian origin, four British nationals of Bangladeshi origin and four people from the United Arab Emirates. Other victims are believed to be from Indonesia.

Tunisia said four of its nationals were killed while in Cairo.

The Interior Ministry said no Egyptian nationals were among the dead.

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