Texas migrant deaths: 46 people found dead in abandoned truck, 16 taken to hospital

Police work the scene where dozens of people were found dead in a truck and trailer in Texas, US.

Eric Gay/AP Police work the scene where dozens of people were found dead in a truck and trailer in Texas, US.

Forty-six people were found dead and 16 others were taken to hospitals after a tractor-trailer rig containing suspected migrants was found on a remote back road in San Antonio, US officials said.

A city worker at the scene was alerted to the situation by a cry for help shortly before 6pm Monday (local time), Police Chief William McManus said. Officers arrived to find a body on the ground outside the trailer and a partially opened gate to the trailer, he said.

Of the 16 taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses, 12 were adults and four were children, said Fire Chief Charles Hood.

The patients were hot to the touch and dehydrated, and no water was found in the trailer, he said.

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Three people were taken into custody, but it was unclear if they were absolutely connected with human trafficking, McManus said.

Those in the trailer were part of a presumed migrant smuggling attempt into the United States, and the investigation was being led by US Homeland Security Investigations, McManus said.

An ambulance leaves the scene where police said dozens of people were found dead in a truck and trailer unit in a remote area in southwestern San Antonio, Texas.

Eric Gay/AP An ambulance leaves the scene where police said dozens of people were found dead in a truck and trailer unit in a remote area in southwestern San Antonio, Texas.

Those in the trailer were in a presumed migrant smuggling attempt in South Texas, according to an official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the information had not been authorised for public release.

It may be the deadliest tragedy among thousands who have died attempting to cross the US border from Mexico in recent decades.

Big rigs emerged as a popular smuggling method in the early 1990s amid a surge in US border enforcement in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, which were then the busiest corridors for illegal crossings.

As crossing became exponentially more difficult after the 2001 terror attacks in the US, migrants were led through more dangerous terrain and paid thousands of dollars more.

Heat poses a serious danger, particularly when temperatures can rise severely inside vehicles. Weather in the San Antonio area was mostly cloudy Monday, but temperatures approached 37C degrees.

Onlookers stand near the scene where a truck with multiple dead bodies was discovered in San Antonio.

Eric Gay/AP

Onlookers stand near the scene where a truck with multiple dead bodies was discovered in San Antonio.

A look at the deadliest migrant suffocation incidents

June, 2022: 46 suspected immigrants were found dead in a sweltering trailer on a remote back road in southwestern San Antonio.

October, 2019: 39 Vietnamese migrants were found in the back of a truck in Essex, UK.

July, 2017: Eight immigrants were found dead in a sweltering trailer at a San Antonio Walmart parking lot. Two others died later in hospitals. The driver was sentenced to life in prison.

February, 2017: 13 African migrants suffocated inside a shipping container while being transported between two towns in Libya.

A total of 69 migrants, most from Mali, were packed into the container, according to the local Red Crescent branch.

August, 2015: Austrian police discovered an abandoned truck containing the bodies of 71 migrants, including eight children, from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The truck, found along a highway, had crossed into Austria from Hungary.

April, 2009: 35 Afghan migrants suffocated inside a shipping container in southwestern Pakistan. Authorities said that more than 100 people were packed inside the container.

April, 2008: 54 Burmese migrants suffocated in the back of an airtight refrigerated truck in Ranong, Thailand.

May, 2003: 19 migrants died inside a sweltering tractor-trailer while they travelled from South Texas to Houston.

June, 2000: 58 Chinese immigrants were found dead inside a truck in the English port town of Dover.

The Dutch truck had transported the immigrants across the English Channel from Belgium.

Two people survived.

AP