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Hajj pilgrims not among those killed in rain

From Amir Ahmed, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Heavy rains killed 48 people, but none of them were pilgrims at the Hajj, Saudi official says
  • Pilgrims were inconvenienced by downpour the first day of the annual observance
  • Hundreds were rescued after floods swept away weak houses, officials say
RELATED TOPICS
  • Mecca
  • Saudi Arabia

Mecca, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- The torrential rains and heavy floods that slammed and engulfed western Saudi Arabia on Wednesday killed dozens of people, but it appeared Thursday that none were Hajj pilgrims making the obligatory journey for Muslims across the globe.

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told CNN that 48 people were killed, but none of them were pilgrims at the Hajj. Other reports said as many as 77 people died, but it was not immediately known whether any of them were participants in the annual event.

The Hajj -- the fifth pillar of Islam -- requires devotees to journey to Mecca at least once in their lives.

The Hajj began Wednesday, and pilgrims were inconvenienced by the afternoon-long downpour on the first day of the annual observance.

But the rain had cleared by Wednesday night, making it easy for pilgrims to make their way to Mount Arafat on Thursday, a sweltering and windy but cloudless day where pilgrims trekked to seek forgiveness for their sins.

The deaths occurred the port city of Jeddah, Rabigh, north of Jeddah, and in the Mecca region, Saudi authorities said.

Flooding deluged Jeddah -- about two hours west of Mecca, where the Hajj is based. Insufficient drainage systems in Jeddah caused flooding and traffic headaches. The 3½-hour downpour also pounded Mecca.

Civil defense officials also said hundreds of people were rescued after the rains and floods swept away weak houses.

On Thursday, a few million people headed a few miles southeast of Mecca to Mount Arafat where by tradition they pray for God to pardon them for their sins. The gathering at the site is where the Prophet Muhammad made his farewell address.

Along with the heavy rains, authorities have been concerned about pilgrims catching the H1N1 virus, which is thought to be keeping many pilgrims away. A teenager and three elderly people have already died of the virus at the Hajj.

Deadly stampedes have occurred at the Hajj in the past, but there so far have been no reports this year.

Pilgrims went from Mount Arafat to Muzdalifa to spend the night and collect pebbles for the "stoning of the devil" ritual in Mina on Friday.