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Mecca: Summer storm batters pilgrims in Muslim holy city

Videos shared online show pilgrims at the Grand Mosque being dragged along the floor by heavy gusts, as lightning strikes hit area around the sacred site
Lightning strikes the Abraj al-Bait complex in Mecca (AFP)

Pilgrims in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia were caught up in an unusually strong summer storm on Tuesday evening.

Videos posted on social media showed pilgrims being swept off their feet by winds as they tried to look  for safety.

That same evening the Saudi National Center for Meteorology issued a "red warning" for the Mecca region, advising against all but necessary travel outdoors.

Authorities said wind speeds in the Mecca area were as fast as 83 kilometres per hour.

The footage from inside the Grand Mosque shows gusts carrying away barriers and rubbish bins, as those inside tried to maintain their footing on its rainswept marble floors.

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Photographers also captured a number of lightning strikes that hit the Grand Mosque, as well as the nearby clock tower of the Abraj al-Bait complex, which is the tallest building in Saudi Arabia and the fourth largest in the world, standing at 601 metres.

While the largest and most important Islamic pilgrimage, the Hajj, takes place in the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, Muslims perform the minor pilgrimage, or Umrah, throughout the year.

Located in a valley in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, Mecca is often vulnerable to extreme weather, including flash floods.

While the desert topography makes it difficult for water to drain naturally, Saudi officials have also blamed poor urban planning for the "inadequate" system of rainwater drainage during past storms.

The most recent were in December, when heavy rains caused flooding in the holy city, sweeping away cars and interrupting pilgrimages.

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