DEARBORN — Panic, dehydration and claustrophobia were what all pilgrims felt as they made their way to the Jamarat, where worshippers symbolically stone the Devil in Mina, on the outskirts of Mecca.
Jamil (not his real name), a Dearborn resident who completed his journey to hajj and witnessed the incident that killed at least 717 people and injured another 805, said he was in a state of shock after the stampede.
He recalled being sweaty and thirsty in the 115 degree heat, resting on the side of the road leading to the Jamarat, along with thousands of other men, women and children. He thought everything was fine, until he saw people running inside a fire department, asking for treatment.
“As I was sitting down, I could see people jumping over the fence,” Jamil said, referring to two fences that line both sides of the bridge leading to the Jamarat. “I knew there was something going on.”
He said he saw large groups of people panicking because the site was becoming too overcrowded. Jamil added that people were so jammed together that they started fainting.
Jamil said he called the police.
“They need water,” he begged. But the Saudi security forces did nothing.
As Jamil eventually made his way to the destination, he encountered an African American imam who appeared distressed as he helped another man who had passed out. The imam told him he had been lost for two days, so he accompanied Jamil and his group on their journey back to the camps in Mina, where pilgrims rest and sleep, and they gave him shelter.
Hajj Wael, a local physician who wished to be identified by his first name only, said he was in the heart of the stampede.
Wael said he and his group headed toward the Jamarat at around 7:30 a.m. and as they reached midway point of the bridge, the crowd became thicker and he began to see people in wheelchairs.
“There were women sweating profusely, complaining loudly, some had little kids with them,” Wael said.
At this point, however, people were still able to walk through the crowd. He then became separated from the group and was ahead of them by about 20 feet, which is when the crowd traffic drastically slowed down.
An hour and a half after he had departed from his camp, Weal said he had only walked a mile. He couldn’t proceed further.
Wael added that he saw people on the bridge trying to leave through the gates, which were locked, so they began to climb them.
Some men were so desperately trying to climb out that they made ropes out of their clothes, stripping naked. Pilgrims wear Ihram clothing, white sheets that wrap around their bodies.
“I had to get out by any means,” Wael said. “Once you fall, there’s no way you can get up.”
He added that he recited his prayers and thought he was going to pass out from dehydration or a heat stroke.
After Wael eventually pushed his way out through an opening in the gate, he said he was extremely exhausted, bare-footed and confused.
As he rested at a Tunisian camp that gave him shelter and water, he witnessed corpses being loaded into ambulances.
Ismail, a local construction contractor who also did not want his full name published, said he experienced the same conditions as others who died did and is thankful to have made it out alive.
Ismail said from around 6:30 until 11 in the morning, thousands of pilgrims were making their way toward the Jamarat under the blazing sun. He then saw the front end of the crowd becoming congested and people starting to push each other because the gate to their destination was closed.
He said he observed people fainting and others stepping on them on the way out. He added that the gates started opening around 11 a.m.
But by then, it was too late.
When the crowd cleared, Ismail saw that mostly women and children had been trampled because they could not climb the fences.
“You could see piles of people stacked up on top of each other,” Ismail said. “They suffocated.”
He added that he couldn’t feel his hands, as he begged for water. He told his friend they needed to get out.
After the hajj had escaped through an exit on the fence, he spent an hour and a half finding an air conditioned tent that would take him in.
Ismail also recalled witnessing men stripping down and making ropes out of their clothing to escape the chaos.
The most bizarre occurrence to Ismail, however, was that two or three helicopters were circling over the tragic scene. He said he thought they were going to help the pilgrims by throwing ropes or water, but they did not.
“They saw exactly what was going on from start to end,” Ismail said.
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