Seventy pilgrims were killed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia Thursday when a building collapsed in the midst of the annual Haj, reports said.
"The wounded are more than 80," said a witness Abderrahmane Ghoul, who heads an Islamic organisation in southeastern France.
"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," he said.
Ghoul said the nine-storey pilgrims' hostel lay just 50 mt from Mecca's Great Mosque.
With more than 2.5 million pilgrims expected to converge on Mecca for Haj, Saudi authorities had deployed some 60,000 security personnel to try to prevent any repetition of the deadly stampedes and structural failures that have marred previous pilgrimages.
Stampedes killed 251 people in 2003 and 1,426 in 1990.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki confirmed that a building had collapsed in the city, where well over 1 million people had already converged in readiness for the pilgrimage.
He, however, said he had no immediate word on casualties.
More than 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to converge on Mecca for Haj, which formally kicks off on Sunday.
In the face of the massive numbers, the Saudi authorities had set a midnight deadline Wednesday night for the last pilgrims to arrive in Saudi Arabia.
They had also deployed some 60,000 security personnel to try to prevent any repetitions of the deadly stampedes and structural failures that have marred previous pilgrimages.
Fire fighters and civil defense personnel were also included in the security team, which was to number 10,000 more men than in 2005.
There was no immediate word on what might have started the fire. In previous years, camp fires have sparked infernos in pilgrim encampments, but Saudi Arabia has also been battling deadly unrest blamed on Al Qaeda sympathisers since 2003.
Five policemen and two suspects on Saudi Arabia's list of 36 most-wanted militants were killed in clashes north of the capital Riyadh in the run-up to the pilgrimage.