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Haj crash claims Calcutta champ

New Delhi/Calcutta, Jan. 7: Thursday’s building collapse at Mecca killed three Indian pilgrims, including a 65-year-old former billiards champion from Calcutta.

Mohammed Mustafa, two-time Bengal champion who had represented the state in the nationals, had a diseased leg and walked with a stick. He came under a shower of concrete and plaster as he passed by the six-storey building, officials said.

The other two dead Indians are Ghulam Qadir Mir, 47, of Anantnag and fellow Kashmiri Mohammad Rajab, 70, of Badgam, who died in hospital today. Three unidentified Indians are still missing while six were discharged from hospital, officials said.

Among the injured are Rajab’s friend Mohammad Maqbool Dar and Puthummu, a woman from Kerala’s Malappuram district.

Mustafa’s third-floor room at 17/2 H-11 Smith Lane, in a dingy central Calcutta neighbourhood near Crown cinema, was locked through the day. His neighbours seemed to know little about his only son apart from the fact that he “works with a computer firm in Orissa”. Mustafa was a life member of the Muslim Institute in the city.

“We went to the airport to see Mustafabhai off. He was crying with joy. I have known him for the past 12 years and have hardly seen a nicer man,” said Sharif Ahmed, a neighbour and a friend.

“We have contacted Jeddah and discussed the compensation for the dead. They are sending Rs 1 lakh and we shall be arranging for more on our own. Arrangements will be made to send family members of the dead on Haj free of cost,” said All India Haj Committee member Muzaffar Khan.

The Indian mission has alerted the many NRI doctors in the various Saudi hospitals to report any Indian patient they see. Two days after the disaster, whose toll has risen to 76, the authorities are still searching for survivors amid the rubble.

Eyewitnesses today recalled the horror of the tragedy. “I heard one big noise,” said Algerian pilgrim Tayeb Mizasha, 70, at the King Faisal Hospital with broken ribs and a bruised face. “At first I thought it was an earthquake. I don’t know where my wife is.”

A Yemeni who worked in a clothing store on the ground floor said he lost four co-workers in the collapse.

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