Apparently this was how the collapse of the old 8-storey Luluat Al-Kheir (Pearl of Grace) hostel in Mecca had occurred. A French pilgrim, Abderrahmane Ghoul, who heads an Islamic organisation in southeastern France, said:
"I was present. It started with a fire in the building. A helicopter started to sprinkle water to put out the fire. Afterwards, the building collapsed.”
Abderrrahmane commented it was fortuitous that at the time of the collapse many pilgrims were away praying. However, he added that many of the casualties were among those praying in the square outside - the Grand Mosque, focal point of the Haj, is just 50 metres away. The old building collapsed on them.
I wonder how much water the helicopter had dumped on the building? It can’t be the cool falling water causing stress and shock on the heated structure, thus cracking it, because there were pilgrims praying nearby outside – they wouldn’t be doing that if the hostel was blazing away.
At this stage no one could tell what might have started the fire, but kaytee may have an idea. Some years ago, a sweet lady friend of mine became a stewardess on a Norwegian airline, which was chartered to take Libyan pilgrims on the Haj to Mecca. I believe the Gaddafi’s government paid for the chartered flights.
My friend told me that while in flight, as the cabin crew was serving refreshment (no alcohol of course), some passengers brought down their baggage from the overhead locker, zipped them open to reveal bundles of firewood, with which they attempted to start a campfire in the cabin aisle. I guess they must have thought that, well, if tea was being served, there ought to be a campfire to keep the beverage warm and perhaps toast the falafels.
A dozen or so panicking cabin crew with armed fire extinguishers charged up and down the aisle putting the fires out much to the surprise, consternation and annoyance of the puzzled passengers – "Allah, what are the crazy infidels doing?"
But that was not just it! After tea, some passengers decided to … eh … unload right there on the cabin aisle - hey, they were desert people afterall, and probably in an aeroplane for the first time ever. My friend showed a green face as she related to me the gruesome tale of the cleanup after.
So I would not be entirely surprised if some of the more rural pilgrims had started a little campfire inside the rooms of the hostel to warm up the saffron lamb rice they had ta-pow (wrapped as takeaway packages) from Egypt or Tunisia. Then as if to confirm my friend’s recollections, al Jazeera commented that in previous years, campfires had sparked infernos in pilgrim encampments. What did I tell you?
By the way, kaytee noted that every year some disasters or other would occur in Mecca during the Haj. I wonder whether it had anything to do with the very dangerous act of stoning the Devil, you know, the jamarat ritual at Mina.
Last year 3 died with 500 injured while in 2004, 251 perished during the same ritual because of a stampede. The local newspaper Okaz also reported last year that "2 more pilgrims died and 196 others suffered fractures when they fell down during rare heavy rains which poured down on the Mecca region yesterday, partly flooding pilgrims' camps in Mina."
Rare heavy rains in Mecca? Could it just be .....?
Related:Saudi: "Mecca Hotel Collapse was Allah's Will"