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South Africa: Suspected gas leak leaves 17 dead in Boksburg

A suspected gas leak in South Africa has led to the deaths of 17 people, local officials say.

The victims – including three children – died from gas inhalation at an informal settlement in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg.

Police and forensic investigators have said the scene of the toxic gas leak is still active and have advised people to stay clear of the area.

Wednesday’s leak has been linked to illegal gold mining in the area.

Gases are often used by illegal gold miners – known locally as zama zamas – to extract gold from soil stolen from abandoned mine shafts.

One of the gas cylinders was found leaking in Boksburg’s densely populated Angelo shanty town.

The victims were found within a 100m (328ft) radius of the scene.

“The scene was heart-breaking… the bodies were scattered literally everywhere,” said Panyaza Lesufi, Premier of the Gauteng Province.

Emergency service officials fear more bodies could be found as search and rescue teams continue their work.

Twelve people are receiving treatment in hospital, with one in a critical condition.

One woman, a Mozambican living in South Africa, told the BBC that her husband had died in the gas leak. She said she had received a call from a neighbour who told her that her husband had collapsed.

Speaking through tears, she added that she was concerned about how she would get her husband’s body home to Mozambique as she was unemployed and he worked part-time jobs as a handyman.

Johannesburg, commonly known as the city of gold, is home to a labyrinth of abandoned mine shafts which stretch for hundreds of kilometres.

Illegal gold miners mostly from neighbouring countries, such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, have taken over the abandoned shafts.

Angelo residents have told the BBC that illegal mining gangs have been renting dwellings where they refine their loot.

Residents said they noticed a foul smell coming from one of the shacks early on Wednesday night. Those living closer to the rented shack started collapsing.

Mr Lesufi said that local people had asked for help from the army and security forces to move the miners away from the area.

“We need a tactical unit to police this kind of crime. Illegal miners are normally very heavily armed,” he said.

This tragedy comes just six months after a gas tanker explosion on Christmas eve which claimed 41 lives in the same town.

Source: BBC