Saudi Arabia: Workers tear down ramps at hajj site to build better access after deadly stampede

Workers on Sunday began tearing down a platform at a key site of the annual hajj pilgrimage, on orders from the king, in order to rebuild it with better access to prevent deadly stampedes such as the one last week that killed 363 people.

The al-Jamarat platform, where three pillars representing the devil are located, will be rebuilt with one underground level and four 100-meter (330-foot) wide ramps that can accommodate 250,000 pilgrims per hour, said Osama al-Bar, head of Hajj Research Center. There will be 12 entrances and 12 exits.

The current site has just two levels, including one 80-meter (260-foot) wide ramp leading to a platform from which pilgrims pelt the pillars with stones in a symbolic purging of their sins.

On Thursday, some 600,000 pilgrims were squeezed in at the ramp when about a dozen people stumbled over baggage, tripping others behind them and causing the deadly crush.

It was the latest in a series of similar tragedies at the same site, a notorious bottleneck. Other improvements being made include multiple vehicle tunnels to facilitate traffic flow and a landing area for helicopters that might be required to rush in medical aid, al-Bar said.

He said the construction, which aims to both prevent accidents and accommodate the expected increase in pilgrims, would finish within two years. He could not provide details on the cost of the construction, the AP reports.

The al-Jamarat site, located in a desert plain of Mina outside Mecca, has seen deadly incidents in seven of the past 17 years, including a stampede in 1990 that killed 1,426 people and another in February 2004 that killed 244.