South African police combed a township tavern where 21 teenagers mysteriously died on Monday, when survivors described a struggle to escape the crowded compound and one reported a suffocating smell.
Most of the victims, some as young as 13, were found dead in a popular bar in the southern city of East London. Seventeen died in the bar while four died in hospital.
Thirty-one others were taken to hospital with symptoms including back pain, chest tightness, vomiting and headaches, an official said.
Most were discharged on Sunday, with two remaining hospitalized, they said.
The deaths showed no visible signs of injury, prompting initial speculation among local officials and politicians that this was a case of underage drinking, tragically gone awry.
Strong, suffocating odor
But new details emerged on Monday, when survivors spoke of a strong and suffocating odor in the crowded two-story building.< /p>
Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, who was hired by the bar to promote a brand of alcohol, said she was still “confused” but felt lucky to be alive.She said she had trouble getting through e to escape a door full of people.
< p> “We tried to move through the crowd shouting ‘Please let us through’ and others shouted ‘We’re dying boys’ and ‘We’re suffocating’ and ‘There is People who can’t breathe,'” she told AFP.
“I passed out at that moment. I was out of breath and there was a strong smell of spray in the air. We thought it was pepper spray,” she said.
She later regained consciousness after someone sprayed water on her.
“I got up and realized there were bodies lying around. I saw people getting water poured on them, but those people didn’t even move,” she said in a phone interview.
“I could have died.”
Special Counsel from Pretoria rushed to the scene.
“Detectives will resume their work at the scene today,” regional police spokesman Thembinkosi Kinana told AFP.
Many of the victims are believed to have been students celebrating the end of their high school exams, officials said.
Autopsies will be conducted to determine if it deaths could have been linked to the poisoning.
“The autopsies (were) completed by last night and the bodies will be returned to their families today,” said Yonela Dekeda, spokeswoman for the provincial health department.< /p>
Forensic analysis will be conducted this week.
“Samples were taken and were on the first today Flying to Cape Town where the tests will be conducted,” said Unathi Binqose, a government security official.
Drinking Age Laws
Drinking in South Africa is legal for those over the age of 18.
But in township taverns, which are often adjacent to family homes, safety and drinking age laws are not always enforced.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is among those who have expressed concern.
The teenagers reportedly gathered “at a venue that, at first glance, would seem appropriate for anyone under the age of 18,” he said.
A resident DJ performing at this Also celebrating his birthday tonight, spoke of a rush of revelers who squeezed into an already packed venue.
“We tried to close the door but people kept pushing. The bouncers couldn’t cope with the crowd squeezing in front of the front door. There were so many people there,” said the DJ.
He turned the music off to discourage revelers, but to no avail.
The crowd was just “unruly and couldn’t done,” he said, adding that he was “traumatized”.
In a tweet, African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed his thoughts and prayers “at this time of unspeakable sadness and mourning”.