A gas leak in a South African slum near Johannesburg has killed at least 24 people, including children, according to rescue services late Wednesday. The incident occurred near the suburb of Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, in the Angelo informal settlement.
“We counted about 24 fatalities,” AFP reporter William Ntladi reported from the site. Women and children, he said, were among the dead.
Ntladi said emergency services received a complaint about a gas explosion about 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), but when they arrived, they discovered it was “a gas leakage from a cylinder” with a “poisonous gas”.
“Because the scene is still unfolding, we are busy checking the entire affected area to determine the number of hospitalised casualties,” he added.
Preliminary information suggests the gas was being used “as part of illegal mining activities,” he added.
With a staggering unemployment rate of more than 32%, South Africa is home to thousands of illegal miners known as “zama zamas” (“those who try” in Zulu). Thousands of unlicensed miners hunt for gold in abandoned mines under difficult and frequently deadly conditions.
Last month, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake shook Boksburg, a middle-class Johannesburg suburb, which is considered to have been caused by the tangle of underground tunnels and shafts associated with illicit mining in the area.
On Christmas Eve last year, a truck carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) became stuck beneath a bridge, producing a leak and explosions, killing 41 people in Boksburg.
Among the victims were people and medics who had approached the scene either to help or see the trapped truck.
Dozens at a nearby hospital, including patients and staff members, sustained serious burns after the explosion, which smashed windows and caused the roof to collapse.