At least 16 people, including three children, were killed by a leak of a toxic nitrate gas being used by illegal miners to process gold in a settlement of closely packed metal shacks, South African police and local officials said late Wednesday.
Emergency services initially said as many as 24 people may have died at the settlement in Boksburg, a town on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg. But police and Gauteng province Premier Panyaza Lesufi said the bodies had been recounted and 16 people had definitely died.
The bodies were found hours after the leak began around 8 p.m. Teams continued search and rescue operations in the area late into the night to find other injured people.
The bodies were recovered at 3 a.m. as emergency services directed forensic investigators and pathologists to examine the scene.
"We can´t move anybody. The bodies are still where they are on the ground," said emergency services spokesman William Ntladi.
3 of the 16 bodies were identified as children, aged 1, 6 and 15.
Two people were taken to hospital for treatment, police said.
Ntladi said Wednesday's deaths were caused by a nitrate gas that leaked from a gas cylinder being kept in a shack. He said the cannister had emptied out in the leak and teams were able to begin going over an area stretching out 100 meters (100 yards) from the cyclinder to check for more casualties.
Ntladi said the information authorities had indicated the cylinder that caused the leak was being used by illegal miners to separate gold from dirt and rock.
Forty-one people were killed in Boksburg on Christmas Eve when a truck carrying liquefied petroleum gas got stuck under a bridge and exploded.
Source: AP - africanews