Over 2.

5 mln Muslims to perform Hajj today
MAKKAH: Heavy rains have failed to dampen the spirits of millions of pilgrims as they readied themselves today on the plains of Arafat where they will pray to the Almighty for His mercy and blessings. Arafat is the second day of Haj and one of the highpoints of the holy pilgrimage. When dawn breaks, pilgrims will stand on the place where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) delivered his last sermon 14 centuries ago. “Some pilgrims could not find enough space in tents so we deployed additional ones to shelter them,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki. The pilgrims, however, have continued with their Haj rituals and no evacuation was reported. A power outage hit parts of Makkah, SPA said. Khaled Merghalani, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the threat of heavy rain in Makkah could result in health risks for pilgrims, but was confident the authorities could handle any crisis. “We have planned for this possibility,” he said. Plans to counter natural calamities such as heavy rains and floods have been well laid out, said Khaled AlHabshi from the Red Crescent. Yesterday pilgrims circumambulated the Ka’ba and then traveled to Mina for the Day of Tarwiyah, where they rested in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet. Saudi authorities have warned pilgrims to move carefully amid Wednesday’s storms, the first in years to occur during the Haj. Water seeped into tents in the sprawling tent city in Mina where pilgrims were staying. “We are staying in tents for now. Heavy rain turned red-carpeted corridors into streams of water with empty cans of soft drinks floating,” Zohra Nasef, from Morocco and on her second Haj, told Reuters. The security and safety of pilgrims has been a major concern for the authorities this year, with certain groups calling to politicize the Haj, the conflict with the infiltrators on the Saudi-Yemeni border, and the threat of swine flu. Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki said Tuesday the government would not allow surprise attacks on pilgrims. Four pilgrims have already died from the A(H1N1) virus here, the authorities said. On Tuesday the Health Ministry said all hospitals and medical centers in Makkah and the holy sites were prepared to receive flu cases.
“There is no risk of the illness spreading as we are well-prepared and have taken the necessary measures to prevent an outbreak,” Merghalani told a news conference.

Shahul Ebrahim, a consultant from the Atlanta, Georgia-based CDC at the Haj, said it was too early to tell if the rains could exacerbate the spread of H1N1, the flu virus. “Rain can lead to other waterborne diseases ... such as the common cold, flu. But we still don’t know how it will affect H1N1. We can’t predict,” he told The Associated Press. So far, the rain has mainly caused traffic snarls. Winter is the rainy season in Makkah, and light showers are not uncommon, but such a heavy downpour has not been seen for years during the Haj. Civil Defense spokesman Maj. Abdullah Al-Harthi said his organization has plans to deal with flooding, including 300 buses to evacuate pilgrims if necessary. He said no casualties have been reported from the rains, SPA reported. One lane of the main road into Makkah was closed by flooding, said Amer AlAmer, an Interior Ministry official. “It cannot handle the pressure of all the people coming from outside Makkah,” he said, adding that it would cause delays of several hours for people trying to reach the sites. Water covered the floors in many of the tents, said Suleiman Hamad, a 29-yearold pilgrim in Mina. He said the scene was “muddy, but manageable,” with many pilgrims throwing blankets over their heads when they walked outside. Rain fell sporadically throughout the day, and stopped by late afternoon in many sites – though it continued to fall in Makkah.

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