1990-07-10 00:00:00

At least 21 Filipino pilgrims died in the tunnel mishap in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which killed more than 1,000 Muslims participating in the annual "Haj" (holy pilgrimage) on July 2.

The office of Muslim Affairs (OMA) here said 17 other Filipinos were reported missing.

Dimasangkay Pundato, OMA executive director, expressed sorrow over the incident. He said his office, which coordinates the country´s pilgrims, appealed for them to strictly follow pilgrim guidelines, including instructions in cases of emergency.

Filipina Senator Santanina Rasul, in a message from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said the Filipinos will be buried in Mecca, along with the other victims. "It is a Muslim tradition not to preserve the dead beyond 24 hours," she explained.

She said Muslims who die in Mecca, especially while fulfilling their religious duties, are considered martyrs.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia reportedly said the tragedy was "the will of God." Had the victims not died there, they would have died elsewhere, he is quoted as saying.

Initial reports from the Saudi Arabian government said at least 1,426 were killed in what has been described as among the most tragic accidents in the history of the Haj.

Indonesians, Malaysians, Pakistanis, and Indians were among other Asian victims.

Governor Macabangkat Lanto of Lanao del Norte, Mindanao, southern Philippines, told UCA News there were about 50,000 people in the tunnel, 10 meters wide and almost a kilometer long, which links the tent city of Mina to Mecca.

The pilgrims were quietly walking through the tunnel when the lights suddenly went off, explained Lanto, who was among 3,000 Filipino pilgrims.

"A short circuit caused the blackout and the people panicked," he said. "... The weeping and shouting with its volume raised inside the tunnel led to pandemonium."

Lanto said people pushed their way to the exits which were already blocked.

"Victims were either trampled on or shoved by the fleeing crowd. Most of those killed were the old and (those) weary from lack of sleep because of the three-night vigil that was part of the pilgrim(age)," the governor said.

During the Haj, every morning until sundown pilgrims walk to the Holy City, praying and reading the Koran (holy book).

They trek to the site of the Black Stone inside the mosque. All pilgrims are obliged to kiss the holy stone.


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