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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Nine die inside sweltering truck in Texas in 'human trafficking crime'

Twenty in hospital with extreme dehydration and heatstroke

San Antonio police chief William McManus, left, and fire department chief Charles Hood speak to the media after nine people died in a trcuk at a Walmart car park in the Texas city on July 23, 2017. San Antonio Police Department / EPA
San Antonio police chief William McManus, left, and fire department chief Charles Hood speak to the media after nine people died in a trcuk at a Walmart car park in the Texas city on July 23, 2017. San Antonio Police Department / EPA

Nine people have died after being crammed inside a truck outside a Walmart store in Texas in an apparent failed human trafficking attempt.

Some 20 others were being treated at local hospitals with extreme dehydration and heatstroke in San Antonio where the temperature reached 38C on Saturday.

Officials said they found 38 people inside the trailer, including two school aged children, who were “very hot to the touch”. They said the trailer did not have a working air condition system and the people inside did not have any water.

Interviews with the survivors suggested that the trailer had held some 100 people with many fleeing when police arrived, the authorities said. The driver, who has not been named, was arrested.

Some of the survivors said they were from Mexico. The city is some 150 miles from the Mexican border. “We’re looking at a human trafficking crime,” said police chief William McManus.

Illegal migration over the US border with Mexico is an everyday fact. Most of the migrants are from Mexico and Central America seeking better-paying work in the United States.

There have been many cases of migrants — often scores at a time — stranded and killed in northern Mexico when the truck they were being transported in was abandoned in heat by drivers.

In their haste to evade authorities, the smugglers often leave passengers without air conditioning, and often trapped without fresh air.

The alarm was raised late Saturday when someone from the track asked a member of Walmart staff for water. He gave them water, then called the police who found eight dead inside the truck unit. A further victim died in hospital, officials said.

Store surveillance footage retrieved by investigators showed vehicles arriving to pick up people from the truck.

“By any standard, the horrific crime … ranks as a stark reminder of why human smuggling networks must be pursued, caught and punished,” said Thomas Homan, acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Mr McManus said the deadly discovery "is not an isolated incident. This happens quite frequently under cover of night."

This time, "fortunately there are people who survived, but this happens all the time," he said.