A stampede killed 345 Muslim pilgrims today and injured around a thousand others at a holy site near Mecca, Saudi Arabia. They were crossing the Jamarat Bridge in Mina, where similar catastrophes have occurred in the past. Dozens or hundreds of people often die during the annual hajj pilgrimage, and in 2003, Brendan I. Koerner explained what makes it so dangerous:
Simply put, the ancient facilities have not expanded in proportion to the number of pilgrims. The most hazardous part of the hajj is the stoning of the pillars at Mina. ... The ceremony, in which Muslims symbolically rebuke the devil by throwing 21 pebbles at three pillars, has changed little over the past 14 centuries. What has changed is the number of participants—at least 2 million people a year now partake. ... Worshippers approach the pillars via the Jamarat Bridge, which can supposedly accommodate 100,000 pedestrians per hour. Yet the load often far exceeds this figure since, according to the rules of the hajj, the stoning ritual should be completed in a single day before sundown. It doesn't take much to initiate a deadly stampede under such overcrowded conditions.
This year, Saudi Arabia increased safety precautions and dispatched a 60,000-person security team to control the huge crowd. Alas, these steps were not enough.