At least 107 people have died after a construction crane crashed into the Grand Mosque in the Saudi city of Mecca after toppling over during a storm.
The mosque is Islam’s holiest site, and the tragedy occurred ahead of the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage later this month.
Images posted by social media users showed a grisly scene, with police and onlookers attending to numerous bodies lying amid pools of blood on the polished mosque floors.
Saudi Arabia’s civil defence authority provided a series of rising casualty numbers on its official Twitter account as ambulances whisked the wounded to area hospitals. A total of 238 people were said to have been injured.
A photo released by the authority showed police and workers in hard hats inspecting a pile of collapsed concrete slabs inside a part of the sprawling, ornately decorated mosque.
Another showed the base of the toppled red-and-white crane tilted upward at a sharp angle.
Images aired on Saudi state television showed the crane’s metal boom had smashed through what appeared to be the roof of the mosque.
Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Mansouri, the spokesman for the presidency of the Mecca and Medina mosque affairs, said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that the accident happened late on Friday afternoon during a severe storm.
Authorities did not provide details on the victims’ nationalities, but it is likely the tragedy will have affected several countries.
The Grand Mosque and the cube-shaped Kaaba within it draw Muslims of all types from around the world throughout the year, though numbers increase significantly in the run-up to the hajj.
The mosque is Islam’s holiest site to which Muslims face in daily prayers and a forms central site among the hajj rituals.
Performing the pilgrimage once during one’s lifetime is a duty for all able-bodied adult Muslims. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to start around September 22.
Mr Al-Mansouri said the crane, which was being used in construction work at the mosque, struck a circular area around the Kaaba and a nearby walkway.
Al-Jazeera TV broadcast footage from inside the mosque compound said to be from the aftermath of the accident, showing the floor strewn with rubble and what appear to be pools of blood.
Another video, released on Twitter, captured the apparent moment of the red-and-white crane’s collapse during a heavy rainstorm, with a loud boom, screams and confusion.
The governor of the Mecca region, Prince Khalid al-Faisal, quickly called for the formation of a committee to investigate the cause of the accident.
He directed all appropriate authorities to provide support for all of those injured.
It was not immediately clear which firm owned the crane that collapsed.
The millions of pilgrims who visit the country’s holy sites each year pose a considerable security and logistical challenge for the Saudi government, and large-scale deadly accidents have occurred on a number of occasions in years past.
In 2006, more than 360 pilgrims died in a stampede at the desert plain of Mina, near Mecca. A crush of pilgrims two years earlier left 244 dead.
The worst hajj-related tragedy was in 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims died in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.