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“They saved their whole life”, says American woman who lost her parents on a pilgrimage to Mecca

Saida Wurie said it was her parents’ lifelong dream to take part in Hajj, the religious pilgrimage that brings Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia every year.

They spent US$23,000 (R$124,938.30) on an all-inclusive travel package through a tourism company registered in the state of Maryland.

“They saved their whole lives for this,” she told CNN International.

But what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime turned tragic this week when Wurie learned that his mother Isatu Tejan Wurie, 65, and father Alieu Dausy Wurie, 71, were among the thousands of pilgrims who died in the freezing temperatures. extremes that dominate the Persian Gulf country.

The couple during the pilgrimage to Mecca

According to the Saudi Arabian government, more than 1,300 people had died as of Sunday (23) during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage – with “numerous cases” due to heat stress and “unauthorized” travel, accounting for more than four out of every five fatalities.

The Wuries were U.S. citizens from Bowie, Maryland. The mother had recently retired as a head nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Prince George’s County, her daughter told CNN .

Speaking to CNN on Saturday (22), Wurie said she remained in close contact with her parents while they were in Saudi Arabia through a family group chat.

It was during that conversation, she said, that she learned that the tourism company did not provide adequate transportation or the necessary credentials to participate in the pilgrimage.

The group her parents were traveling with, which included about 100 fellow pilgrims, did not have enough food and supplies for the five- to six-day journey that is a pillar of Islam, she said.

Saida believes that her parents were not “properly prepared” for the trip by the tour operator and “did not receive what they paid for” from the company. A CNN Internacional has contacted the tourism company for comment.

She last heard from her parents on June 15, when her mother sent a message saying they had already been waiting hours for transport to take them to Mount Arafat. She believes they were located in Mina at the time.

The couple chose to walk and sent a message to their daughter after walking for more than two hours.

The Wurie then joined other pilgrims and others in their tour group at Mount Arafat, where they gathered to pray and reflect on the holy site.

A man from the tour group contacted Saida Wurie to say the couple had gone missing on Mount Arafat, after her father said he could not continue the trip and stopped to take a break en route. The man continued to the top of Mount Arafat, but was unable to find them on his way down.

Saida received death notices from the US Consulate in Jeddah, which obtained them from the Saudi Interior Ministry, saying her parents had died of “natural causes” on June 15.

The Consulate General’s Office informed Saida that her parents had already been buried, but they did not tell her exactly where.

Now, she and her siblings are doing everything they can to get answers and find their parents’ burial site.

“We asked the Saudi government to keep the bodies so that we could travel to Saudi Arabia, give them a proper burial with the presence of [seus] children and so we can identify the bodies,” she told CNN . “Unfortunately, they have already been buried.”

⁠She would like American diplomats to meet her and her siblings at the site when they arrive to help them find where their parents are buried and collect their belongings, as she does not know Arabic and is unfamiliar with the area.

As of Saturday, the diplomats had not committed to meeting them in person in Saudi Arabia, she said.

The US State Department confirmed that there were “several US citizen deaths in Saudi Arabia” but declined to comment on any details about the Wurie family.

Extreme heat has been cited as the main factor behind the hundreds of deaths and injuries reported this year during Hajj. Mecca, the central holy city for Hajj pilgrims, saw temperatures rise to a record 51.6C on Monday (17).

High temperatures for this year’s meeting were expected, with the Saudi army deploying more than 1,600 people with medical units and 30 rapid response teams specifically for heatstroke. Another 5,000 health and first aid volunteers were also on duty.

But CNN spoke to other Hajj pilgrims who said preparations were not sufficient, with one describing seeing fellow worshipers lose consciousness and walk past bodies covered in white cloth.

The exact death toll remains uncertain and is expected to rise as countries around the world independently announce the deaths of their citizens.

Concern about inappropriate tour groups has also grown. Egypt announced it was revoking the licenses of 16 travel agencies that organize Hajj pilgrimages on Saturday, according to state news agency Ahram Online.

This is not the first time that hundreds of pilgrims have died while traveling for the Hajj, which this year attracted more than 1.8 million people.

In 2015, more than 700 people were killed during a stampede in the Saudi Arabian city of Mina, on the outskirts of Mecca.

In 2006, 363 people were killed during a stampede at the site, where pilgrims gathered to participate in the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina. Last year, more than 200 people died.

Source: CNN Brasil

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