Officials believe 50 migrants were killed after being discovered in a semi-truck in San Antonio, with others hospitalised.

Fifty migrants are believed to have died after being discovered in sweltering conditions in a semi-truck in San Antonio, according to a federal law enforcement official, in a scene the mayor described as a “horrific human tragedy.”

According to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the death toll, which the city’s fire chief set at 46 on Monday, includes migrants believed to be mostly from Mexico, as well as Guatemala and Honduras. Their discovery on Monday coincides with the launch of a “unprecedented” operation by US federal authorities to disrupt human smuggling networks amid an influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border.

San Antonio police reported “an alleged human smuggling event” to the US Department of Homeland Security’s investigation unit, which is leading the investigation, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said Monday. This appears to be one of the deadliest incidents in recent years for migrants near the southern border.

Three people are being held by police, though their connection to the situation is unknown, according to Police Chief Bill McManus at a news conference Monday night.

Authorities were called to the scene shortly before 6 p.m. after a worker in a nearby building heard a cry for help, according to McManus. McManus stated that the worker discovered a trailer with the doors partially open and discovered deceased people inside.

The federal law enforcement official told CNN on Tuesday that 48 people died on the scene and two died in hospitals, and that the toll is preliminary.

Sixteen people were taken alive and conscious to medical facilities, according to San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood, during a news conference Monday night.

According to Hood, the patients were hot to the touch and suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion. He claimed there was no evidence of water in the refrigerated semi tractor-trailer and no visible working air conditioning unit.

According to the National Weather Service, high temperatures in the San Antonio area ranged from the high 90s to the low 100s on Monday.

Federal authorities are attempting to determine the origin and path of the truck, according to the official, who added that it is unclear how long the people inside the truck had been dead.

Mexico’s consul general in San Antonio stated on social media that assistance would be provided to Mexican nationals. According to Mexico’s foreign minister, who cited the consul, at least two of the 16 survivors are Guatemalan.

Mayorkas told CNN earlier this month that US officials are working to improve the flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border. Their operation expands on previous efforts to go after smugglers, on whom migrants frequently rely as they make their way to the border. Last spring, Homeland Security announced a joint effort with federal partners to crack down on criminal smuggling organisations.

Investigators said that in 2003, 18 victims ranging in age from 7 to 91 were discovered dead in the back of a semi truck with about 100 other people as temperatures soared past 100 degrees. The driver, in that case, was sentenced to life in prison at first but was resentenced to nearly 34 years in prison in 2011.

Heat has not been the only threat to migrants packed in vehicles. A semi truck carrying 25 people collided with an SUV on an isolated stretch of California’s Imperial Valley in March 2021, killing 13 undocumented immigrants.

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