South Africa counts damage, death by tanker truck explosion

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A burned out vehicle marks the spot where a gas tanker exploded under a bridge in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. A truck carrying liquified petroleum gas has exploded in the South African town of Boksburg, killing at least 8 people and injuring more than 50 others on Saturday. (AP Photo/Hein Kaiser)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa was coming to grips Sunday with the full extent of the destruction and deaths caused by a Christmas Eve tanker truck explosion near Johannesburg as officials reported the death toll rising to 15.

The truck was carrying gas when it got stuck under a low-lying bridge in the town of Boksburg, on Saturday, sparking flames. As firefighters worked to extinguish the flames the tanker exploded, according to emergency services officials..

A “fire bomb” from the explosion substantially damaged Tambo Memorial Hospital, located about 100 meters (110 yards) away, authorities said. Three hospital staff members were among those killed, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said.

The hospital’s emergency unit and X-ray department were badly damaged, he said.

Residents who had gathered to see the burning truck fled from the explosion, some with their clothes burned off, witnesses told the News24 news website. At least 321 injured people were taken to the damaged hospital, though some were later transferred to other Johannesburg-area hospitals.

Several houses and vehicles were also damaged by the explosion, according to officials.

“A fireball in the sky,” is how resident Rolf Bjornstad described the explosion to News24.

“There was heat coming into the house. I thought of my wife, kids, and helping the affected people,” he said.

The tanker truck transporting liquefied petroleum gas — used in homes and industries for heating and cooking — was en route to Botswana from South Africa’s Indian Ocean port of Richards Bay, said officials. Questions were being asked about why the tanker was on an indirect local route and not on a major highway.

The incident will be investigated, said Tania Campbell, the mayor of Ekurhuleni, the municipality which includes Boksburg.

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