At least 42 migrants have been found dead inside a tractor-trailer in Texas in what appears to be one of the most deadly recent incidents of human smuggling along the US-Mexico border.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the suffocation of the migrants in San Antonio the “tragedy in Texas” on Twitter and said the local consulate was on the way to the scene, though the nationalities of the victims had not been confirmed on Monday (local time).
A US law enforcement official said more than 40 people were dead, without providing additional details. Another 16 people, including four children, have been taken to local hospitals.
“It’s probably close [to] 100 in the truck,” a law enforcement source told the San Antonio Express-News, adding that “about half” of the group were likely dead.
The truck was found next to railway tracks in a remote area on the city’s southern outskirts, San Antonio’s KSAT television reported.
“A worker, who works in one of the buildings up behind me, heard a cry for help. Came out to investigate and found a trailer with the doors partially open and found a number of deceased individuals inside,” a police spokesman said later.
The discovery prompted an enormous police response, with first responders seen walking along the tracks with thermal imaging cameras, apparently searching for more people.
Police have arrested three people, although they warned they did not “absolutely know” if they were connected with the tragic discovery.
A San Antonio fire department spokesman said about 60 firefighters had been involved in the rescue operation, which he described as a “mass casualty with triage”. Ten medic units transported the 16 patients to hospital.
“The patients that we saw were hot to touch. They were suffering from heatstroke, heat exhaustion. No signs of water in the vehicle. It was a refrigerated tractor-trailer, but there was no visible working AC unit on that rig,” he said.
A KSAT-12 reporter called the situation “a possible human smuggling case” in a tweet as she headed to the scene.
San Antonio police were also searching for the truck’s driver, who had apparently abandoned the vehicle prior to its discovery, The New York Times reported.
A spokeswoman for US Customs and Border Protection said federal agents had arrived at the site by Monday night.
There have been a record number of migrant crossings at the US-Mexico border in recent months, sparking criticisms of the immigration policies of US President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, placed the blame for the deaths on Mr Biden’s policies, saying on Twitter that they showed “the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law”.
The San Antonio police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Temperatures in San Antonio, which is about 250 kilometres from the Mexican border, swelled to a high of 39.4 degrees on Monday with high humidity.
In July 2017, 10 migrants died after being transported in a tractor-trailer that was discovered by San Antonio police in a store car park.
The driver, James Matthew Bradley, Jr, was sentenced the following year to life in prison for his role in the smuggling operation.
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