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UPDATED: September 14, 2015
Three Chinese among the Injured in Mecca Crane Collapse

Three Chinese Muslims were among the injured after a massive crane smashed into Mecca's Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia on Friday and killed at least 107 people ahead of the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage, the China Islamic Association said on Sunday.

Two people from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region were hit by falling objects during the accident. The other one from Gansu Province was hurt because he slipped after witnessing the horror, said Ma Xiubang, a member of staff at the association which organizes the annual pilgrimage. All the injured are in stable condition.

"We can't tell how many Chinese Muslims were at the Grand Mosque when the accident happened because they all go to perform daily prayers by themselves," Ma said. The organizers of the Chinese pilgrimage delegation in Mecca, Islam's holiest city have advised Chinese Muslims to perform their daily prayers at the mosques near the buildings where they are staying. Local authorities also informed the delegation that the hajj pilgrimage will take place as normal, he said.

Joining Muslims around the world, all 14,500 Chinese Muslims have arrived in Mecca preparing for the annual pilgrimage expected to get underway later this month, said Yang Zhibo, deputy president of the association.

The Kaaba, the massive cube-shaped structure at the center of the Grand Mosque has a major role in the hajj. A huge project has been under way to expand the area surrounding the Kaaba for almost three years now, allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once from the current one million. The project is due to be completed at the end of this year, Yang said.

High winds and heavy rains were to blame for the collapse of the massive crane at the construction site. At least 238 people were injured, according to civil defense figures, Associated Press reported.

The director general of civil defense, Suleiman bin Abdullah al-Amro, told satellite broadcaster Al-Arabiya that the unusually powerful winds that toppled the crane also tore down trees and signs as a storm whipped through the area, AP said.

He denied reports that lightning brought down the red-and-white crane, which was being used for the mosque's expansion, or that some of those killed died in a stampede.

Dai Junfeng, deputy president of Yunnan Islamic Association recorded the massive wind and rainfall from the building he stayed in Mecca on his mobile phone. "I haven't seen extreme weather like that in Mecca for several years and I was told there will be more stormy weather to come," he said. "Local authorities have sealed off parts of the area surrounding the Kaaba for clean up works, so it will be extremely crowded. It will be another disaster if a stampede happens."

On Saturday, Chinese Muslims in Mecca held a service to pray for those who died in the accident.

During the week of the hajj, Muslims converge on Mecca to perform a series of rituals, including the circling of the Kaaba, praying and holding vigil at Mount Arafat, and the symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles at three pillars in Mina.

(Xinhua News Agency September 14, 2015)

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