The death toll from a gas truck explosion in South Africa has risen to 34
The death toll from a fuel truck explosion on Christmas Eve near the east of Johannesburg has risen to 34, officials say, including 10 health workers at a nearby hospital.
The truck was carrying gas when it got stuck under a low bridge in Boksburg, starting a fire. Ambulance officials said the tanker exploded while firefighters were trying to put them out.
Authorities said that a “firebomb” from the blast significantly damaged the Tambo Memorial Hospital, located about 100 meters (0.06 mi) away. cars away from the fire.
Besides the loss of life, the hospital’s emergency unit and x-ray department were also badly affected, said Health Minister Jo Phalla.
Among the dead were residents who had gathered to watch the burning truck. At least 321 injured people were taken to the damaged hospital, although some were later transferred to others in the Johannesburg area.
Officials said the blast also damaged several homes and cars.
“A fireball in the sky,” resident Rolf Bjornstad described the explosion on News24 in South Africa.
He said, “There was heat entering the house. I thought of my wife and children and helping those affected.”
The South African Council of Churches held a memorial service for all those killed in the crash.
The 32-year-old driver was taken into custody a few days after the accident but was subsequently released by officials who said there was not enough evidence to charge him.
Officials said the tanker truck carrying liquefied petroleum gas – used in homes and industries for heating and cooking – was on its way to Botswana from the port of Richards Bay in South Africa’s Indian Ocean.
The company that hired the driver, Innovative Staff Solutions, said he was not negligent. He made a wrong turn and was following directions to get back on the highway. The area of the bridge was not visible, but he stopped and estimated that the truck would go under the bridge. But he didn’t calculate that because the front of the truck was lowered while going downhill, the rear end would go up.
When the back of the truck broke down, the driver called the fire department and attempted to remove motorists and pedestrians from the site. Local media said the man collapsed from inhaling gas fumes and was taken to an ambulance shortly before the explosion.
Tanya Campbell, the mayor of Ekurhuleni, the municipality that includes Boksburg, said the incident would be investigated.