South Africa

EKURHULENI TRAGEDY

Death toll of Boksburg gas tanker blast stands at 18 as government assesses damage to nearby OR Tambo Hospital

Death toll of Boksburg gas tanker blast stands at 18 as government assesses damage to nearby OR Tambo Hospital
Several elderly people are evacuated after fears of an underground gas line leak arose, caused an explosion from a gas tanker which left several dead and scores injured on Saturday morning, 24 December 2022. Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed.

The gas tanker explosion beneath a bridge in Boksburg on Saturday has claimed the lives of 18 people, including nine staff who were working at the nearby OR Tambo Memorial Hospital.

On the morning of 24 December, a truck transporting liquefied petroleum gas exploded after it became wedged beneath a bridge about 100m from OR Tambo Memorial Hospital in Boksburg, Gauteng. 

Initial reports said 10 people were killed in the blast, with 26 being seriously injured. By Monday evening, the death toll stood at 18.

Among the deceased were nine staff from the nearby hospital, eight of whom were nurses. The ninth victim was a driver.

The Gauteng Department of Health issued a statement on Monday, saying: “Thirty-seven people, including 24 patients and 13 staff members who were outside the wards and the hospital parking lot at the time of the explosion, sustained severe burns and were diverted to neighbouring hospitals including Bertha Gxowa Hospital, Far East Rand Regional Hospital, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital, Thelle Mogoerane Hospital, Pholosong Hospital and LenMed.” 

By Monday evening, OR Tambo Hospital was still not admitting new patients and hospital visits remained temporarily suspended. 

According to the police’s preliminary investigation, the tanker – which was reportedly travelling from Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal to Botswana – got stuck beneath a low-level bridge and began leaking gas. 

Initially, a small fire was sparked. As onlookers gathered, the Boksburg Fire Department arrived and began extinguishing the flames. The tanker then exploded, destroying the bridge and causing extensive damage to the immediate area. 

“Many onlookers watching the initial accident became victims when the tanker exploded,” said Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Boksburg gas tanker explosion leaves 10 dead, 26 injured – and temporarily shuts down OR Tambo Memorial Hospital

Police arrested the 32-year-old truck driver that evening at a private hospital where he was receiving treatment for minor injuries, police spokesperson Brigadier Brenda Muridili said in a statement on Sunday. 

The driver has been charged with “multiple counts of culpable homicide, negligent causing of an explosion resulting in death … and malicious damage to property”.

He will appear in the Boksburg Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

The bridge along Hospital Street that collapsed during the Boksburg gas tanker explosion on 26 December 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

OR Tambo Hospital damage

The explosion destroyed two vehicles and a fire engine. Damage was also caused to five houses and part of the OR Tambo Memorial Hospital. 

During a visit to the hospital on Tuesday morning, the Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements and Infrastructure, Lebogang Maile, said engineers would be brought in to assess the extent of damage to the facility. 

“The good news is that there has not been any fundamental impact on the structure … the structure is still sound. However, there were several damages, and these damages happened in the casualty and emergency unit, in the theatre ward, the X-ray ward and the antenatal ward,” said Maile. He added that contractors were repairing some of the damage. 

Maile said repairs to the electrical system would cost around R18-million. He said this amount included “work that was supposed to have been done previously … it’s not all related to the damages”. 

The Ekurhuleni municipality has begun relocating some families whose homes were affected by the blast, said Maile.

Death toll in Boksburg gas tanker blast stands at 18 as government assesses damage to nearby OR Tambo Hospital

The bridge along Hospital Street collapsed during the tragic event of the Boksburg gas tanker explosion on 26 December 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

‘We must prevent such catastrophes’

On Tuesday morning, the Presidency said in a statement that the government was taking all necessary steps to help those who were affected by the blast. 

“The nation’s hearts go out to everyone affected by this devastating incident,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

“Such events take on greater sadness and tragedy when they occur at this time of year, when all of us pray for safety and look forward to the togetherness and comfort of extended time with family and friends.

“In this instance, the loss of life is rendered more intense because some of the victims were hospital patients, hospital staff and children, while firefighters are counted among the injured,” the president said.

Ramaphosa expressed his appreciation for the rescue and recovery efforts by government agencies and services as well as organisations such as Gift of the Givers. 

He added that while the interventions from government and civil society brought “hope and light in our darkest hour, we must always live by the resolve to prevent such catastrophe from taking place in the first place”.


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Rescue and recovery efforts

Following the explosion, Gift of the Givers sprang into action, providing immediate non-medical help including bottled water, energy drinks, energy bars, biscuits and fruit to emergency services personnel, firefighters, law enforcement, healthcare workers and the community at the hospital.

“We offered ambulances to transport patients to other health facilities, [and] we offered specialised medical personnel from throughout the country as volunteers to assist … we are aware that health facilities are short-staffed during the festive season,” Dr Sooliman told Daily Maverick on Tuesday. 

“We knew there would be a shortage of burns dressings, burn shields, crepe bandages and a range of supplies including cleansing solution, analgesia, anaesthetics, special nutritional products, pain delivery pumps and selected antibiotics for when sepsis occurs…”

Sooliman said Gift of the Givers knew that pharmaceutical companies were closing at midday on 24 December and would only reopen in January, putting pressure on the team to coordinate assistance quickly.  

“We basically had one hour to put our specialist teams to work to procure all the essentials that would be required on the day and [within] the next seven to 10 days – which we duly did, and delivered to OR Tambo Memorial Hospital.” He added that the organisation has surplus stock in its warehouses which will be made available to any health facility that requires it. 

Sooliman said no further assistance can be offered by the organisation at present because medical intervention is what is primarily needed, and those who require such assistance are already in hospital. 

“This is not a situation like an informal settlement fire where people need hot meals, blankets, mattresses, hygiene packs or building materials. The needs are very different: a hospital emergency department, a bridge, railway lines, a fire truck, cars and two civilian homes have been damaged – these need repair or replacement.”

Sooliman said there was a need for patients and their families, and witnesses of the tragedy – including firefighters and healthcare workers – to receive trauma counselling. Social workers will be providing counselling services, according to the provincial health department. 

“The hospital lost eight nurses and one driver – the health department has to provide support as most hospitals are understaffed already. Then, for the 18 families [of the deceased], there may be funeral costs. All these different aspects will require funding from one source or another,” he said. DM

How you can help

The non-profit organisation, Hope SA Foundation is providing support to victims who were injured in the Boksburg blast, families of the deceased and all affected parties. The organisation is requesting donations in the form of blankets, baby food, diapers, children’s clothes, glass windows, food, financial assistance, funeral costs and building contractors to help fix ceilings, walls and windows. 

 

Poster.Supplied

 

Gift of the Givers has also been requesting donations. To contribute to their mission, donate here.

 

 

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