At least 46 migrants were found dead Monday in a tractor trailer abandoned on the side of a road on and around the Texas city of San Antonio.
The grim discovery was one of the worst migrant-related disasters in the United States in recent years and comes five years after a similar fatal incident in the same city in central Texas, a few hours from the Mexican border.
“So far, we have processed approximately 46 migrant bodies that have been sorted, marked and declared dead,” San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters.
He said that 16 people – 12 adults and four children – were taken to the hospital alive and conscious.
There was no initial information about the age and nationality of the deceased.
“The patients we saw were hot to the touch, they were suffering from heatstroke, heat exhaustion, there was no sign of water in the car, it was a refrigerated tractor, but there was no visible air conditioning on this car. ” Hood said.
According to official figures, three people were detained in connection with the incident.
“Today we are dealing with a terrible human tragedy,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told at a press conference.
“Therefore, I urge you all to think compassionately and pray for the dead, the sick and families,” he said.
“And we hope that those responsible for placing these people in such inhuman conditions will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
San Antonio, which is about 250 kilometers (150 miles) from the border, is the main transit route for smugglers.
It has also been engulfed in a record recent heat wave, with temperatures in the area hitting 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.5 Celsius) on Monday.
The car was found on a road near I-35, the main US artery that runs all the way to the Mexican border.
A large-scale operation involving police, firefighters and an ambulance was carried out at the scene.
Authorities were first alerted by an emergency call around 5:50 p.m., according to San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.
“A worker who works in one of the buildings here behind me heard a cry for help,” he told reporters, “went out to investigate, found a trailer with partially open doors, opened them to look, and found a number of dead faces inside.”
He said the investigation had been turned over to the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who advocates a tough immigration policy, lashed out at President Joe Biden over the disaster, accusing him of a “deadly open borders policy.”
“These deaths are Biden related,” Abbott tweeted. “They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to uphold the law.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the incident a “tragedy” and said a Mexican consul was on his way to the scene.
Ebrard said the nationality of the victims is not yet known, but two Guatemalans were among the survivors.
San Antonio was the site of a similar migrant tragedy in 2017, when 10 people suffocated in a stuffy trailer with broken air conditioning and clogged vents en route to the United States.
Dozens of others were hospitalized with heatstroke and dehydration. Up to 200 people are believed to have been in the truck, most of whom fled when it stopped in the parking lot. The truck driver later pleaded guilty to the death charges.
“Lord, have mercy on them. They hoped for a better life,” Gustavo Garcia-Siller, Archbishop of San Antonio, tweeted after news of the gruesome discovery broke on Monday.
“Once again, the lack of courage to carry out immigration reform kills and destroys lives.”