At least 16 people – including children – have died after a gas leak in South Africa.
The disaster, which is believed to be related to illegal mining activities, occurred in the informal settlement of Angelo near the Boksburg district, east of Johannesburg.
“We now have 16 people at the scene who have been confirmed dead and with the intervention of paramedics, a few more have been resuscitated and taken to hospital,” emergency services spokesman William Ntladi told AFP at the scene.
Of those in hospital, four are in “critical” condition, while 11 are in “serious but stable” condition, he said. One, whom he described as a minor, was fully conscious, he added.
Among the dead were five women and three children.
Emergency services received a call about a gas explosion around 8pm (1800 GMT), but on arrival they found it to be “a gas leak from a cylinder” containing a “toxic gas”, Ntladi said.
“As the scene is still unfolding, we are busy scanning the entire affected area to determine the number of victims being treated in hospital,” he said previously.
Preliminary information suggests the gas was used “as part of illegal mining activities,” he added.
With a staggering unemployment rate of over 32 percent, South Africa is home to thousands of illegal miners, nicknamed ‘Zama Zamas’ in Zulu, meaning ‘those who try their luck’.
Thousands of unregistered miners scour obsolete mines for gold in arduous and often dangerous conditions.
South Africa’s trading hub of Johannesburg and the surrounding areas are built around mountainous dumps and cavernous pits left behind by generations of mining companies who began mining during a gold rush in the 1880s.
Boksburg, a middle-class suburb of Johannesburg, was hit by a 5.0 magnitude earthquake last month, believed to be related to the maze of underground tunnels and shafts linked to illegal mining in the area.
The same suburb was also the scene of a massive gas tanker explosion that killed 41 people on Christmas Eve last year when a truck carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) got stuck under a bridge, causing a leak and an explosion.
Among the victims were people and paramedics who had approached the scene of the accident either to help or to see the truck that was trapped.
Dozens at a nearby hospital, including patients and staff, suffered severe burns after the explosion, which smashed windows and collapsed the roof.