(CNN)A stampede during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season — the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — has killed more than 450 people and injured 719 others in Saudi Arabia.
The stampede occurred Thursday morning during the ritual known as “stoning the devil” in the tent city of Mina, about 2 miles from Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.
Hundreds have been killed in past years during the same ceremony, and it comes only 13 days after a crane collapse killed more than 100 people at another major Islamic holy site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
“We have a stampede accident in Mina, and civil defense is dealing with it,” said Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Civil defense authorities said the latest death toll is 453, but the numbers have been climbing steadily. Officials deployed 4,000 workers and 220 ambulances and other vehicles to Mina to help with the disaster.
In the ritual, crowds of pilgrims throw stones at three pillars — now in a re-enactment of an event when the Prophet Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations, according to Muslim traditions.
In Thursday’s stampede, pilgrims were walking toward the largest of the pillars when there was a sudden surge in the crowd about 9 a.m., causing a large number of people to fall, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said, citing civil defense officials.
Information on what led to the surge wasn’t immediately available.
Ethar El-Katatney, a pilgrim who was walking near the stampede site about five hours after it happened, said she could see bodies of victims and numerous police officers and medical personnel.
“At least 20, 30 ambulances passed me by,” El-Katatney told CNN by phone as she tried to reach the pillars herself.
The ceremony was the scene of stampedes and hundreds of deaths in the 1980s and 1990s as pilgrims passed a crowded bottleneck area leading to the small pillars on the ground.
In 2006, a stampede there killed at least 363 people.
After that, the Saudi government erected three massive pillars and completed a $1.2 billion, five-story bridge nearby where pilgrims can toss stones. It was meant to be a roomier atmosphere and a more efficient way to accommodate the faithful.