17 killed, 10 hospitalised in toxic gas leak caused by illegal gold extractions in South Africa

Johannesburg: At least 17 people, including a one-year-old child, were killed and ten hospitalised following a toxic gas leak during an illegal gold extraction operation at an abandoned mine in South Africa, authorities said on Thursday.

The incident occurred on Wednesday evening near Boksburg city, east of Johannesburg, South African authorities confirmed.

Gauteng provincial Premier Panyaza Lesufi told the media that the youngest person that died was a one-year-old child, and the rest were believed to be illegal miners working in a long-closed mine in the area.

The miners were reportedly using the highly toxic nitrate oxide gas to extract gold from soil dug out of the mine.

He confirmed that the death toll rose to 17 after one of the 11 people initially hospitalised died.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended his condolences to the families of those killed.

He urged “investigators to get to the bottom of what may have caused this accident to avoid similar disasters in future,” a statement by his office said.

The survivors of the Boksburg gas leak were recovering well, Gauteng Health Minister Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko told local media.

“The conditions of those who are inside, they are doing much better. At ward one, we have a baby of two months, but she is doing fine. She is self-breathing,” she said.

Lesufi, who rushed to the incident scene last night, deployed forensic experts to investigate reports that the gas had leaked from a cylinder, overcoming residents of an informal settlement nearby.

Helicopters were also used to comb the area in case the gas had spread further, but no other casualties were reported.

Lesufi promised swift action against the illegal miners, who have been operating across the province in abandoned mines, often remaining underground for months on end.

A resident at the settlement, Mandla Marunda, escaped death when he ran away after smelling gas, which he said smelt like rotten eggs.

Marunda said he started running when he saw people dropping down one by one. He admitted that he was too scared to return to the area until assured by police that it was safe to do so.

Marunda’s friend George Mbula said he grabbed a towel from a bucket of water outside his shack to cover his mouth and nose for protection as he escaped.

The incident occurred not far from where a vast container carrying inflammable gas exploded next to a hospital on Christmas Eve last year, killing over 40 people.

The tanker had gotten stuck under a low bridge next to the hospital and exploded after sparks ignited a fire.