Saturday, September 26, 2015 1:26 pm
Two days after the tragic stampede of pilgrims in Mina, Saudi Arabia, in which over 700 people died, surviving pilgrims are still in search of their friends or relations because many of the victims, have yet to be identified.
From Nigerian state of Gombe, five pilgrims are still unaccounted for. They have been declared missing.
The Executive Secretary, Gombe State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Usman Gurama told newsmen in Mina, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday that the pilgrims could not be located since Thursday.
He said that members of the medical team had been checking hospitals and mortuaries with a view to locating them or their remains.
He however said that for now, it had not been confirmed as to whether they were among those who died as a result of Thursday’s incident at the Jamrat (stone throwing venue) where over 700 pilgrims died.
Gurama confirmed that seven pilgrims from the state were injured at the scene of the incident and were responding to treatment. No fewer than three prominent Nigerian pilgrims died in the stampede: they were Hajiya Bilikisu Yusuf, a veteran journalist, Professor Tijjani Abdullahi El-Miskin, an Islamic scholar and Hafsat Shittu, a pharmacist.
The stampede happened after the stoning of the devil, one of the rites performed by pilgrims during the annual Hajj.
The official casualty toll among the two million pilgrims from around the world stands at 717 dead and more than 800 wounded. Some accounts however said 747 people have died so far.
Like the experience of Gombe pilgrims, frustrated families have been left with the painful task of trying to find out for themselves whether loved ones are dead or alive.
“They say they don’t have his name registered,” an agitated Egyptian pilgrim said after arguing with reception staff at Mina Emergency Hospital.
The pilgrim, who gave his name only as Abdullah, said he was searching for his 36-year-old neighbour.
“We can’t find him, neither among the wounded nor among the dead.”
Leaving the hospital was another Egyptian, looking for a fellow pilgrim who was staying in the same part of Mina’s tent city used for the hajj.
“I don’t have the nerves to talk,” he said. “His wife is breaking down at the camp. She didn’t even perform the hajj rituals.”
Upstairs, another man, Tareq, went from room to room seeking the wife of a fellow pilgrim.
Rushing up and down the stairs, Mohammed Bilal, also Egyptian, looked in vain for a friend’s 60-year-old mother, whose phone has been switched off since the disaster.
“The first thing we did was go check if she’s among the dead in Muaisem, but we found nothing,” he said, referring to an area near Mina where the morgue is located.
“We then began going from hospital to hospital.”
“I have her name and picture. I went to the information desk. They said she’s not here…. I went up to search for her in the intensive care unit and other rooms,” he said.
At the information desk, a frustrated black-clad Saudi woman, who was with her husband, asked about her missing 43-year-old brother.
They had been searching hospitals, floor by floor, to find him, she said, asking not to be named.
“We gave his name and picture to all hospitals,” and the family asked relatives in other Saudi cities to also check, in case he had been transferred elsewhere, she said.
Officials referred them to the Muaisem morgue. The brother wasn’t there but her husband came out in tears, distraught at the scene he had witnessed.
“We haven’t slept or eaten since yesterday as we rush on foot from one hospital to the next,” she said.
Hospital manager Ayman al-Yamani said “the identities of some cases in intensive care remain unknown”, with many still on respirators.
With countries around the world struggling to draw up a final list of fatalities among their nationals, consular officials have also converged on Mina to try to identify the victims.
The identification process will take “at least another two or three days”, a Moroccan diplomatic source told the country’s telquel.ma website, adding that Saudi authorities have been provided with fingerprints.
Moroccan media have reported 87 of the North African state’s nationals among the dead.
Yamani, the hospital manager, said the Saudi health ministry has set up a hotline to locate the missing, although many friends and relatives said it was of no help.
He said translators for six languages were among the staff, but hospital workers still appeared to have difficulties communicating with the pilgrims.
In one room, a Saudi nurse was seen resorting to sign language with an elderly Indian man with stitches on the forehead complaining he was unwell.
*Reported by NAN and AFP