Authorities said 46 people, believed to be migrants attempting to enter the United States from Mexico, were found dead inside a tractor-trailer abandoned near San Antonio on Monday.
Authorities said at a news conference Monday night that 16 others, including four children, were taken to hospitals in various conditions. The survivors were “hot to the touch,” officials said, and suffering from heatstroke and heat exhaustion.
San Antonio Police Chief Bill McManus said law enforcement officers first responded to a call of a dead body near the abandoned truck after a worker at a nearby business investigated what they described as a cry for help just before 6pm local time. Officials found a body outside the vehicle before opening up the truck to discover “stacks of bodies” inside.
San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood said the vehicle was a refrigerated tractor-trailer but that there was no working air conditioner and no water.
The New York Times reported earlier Monday that the San Antonio Police Department was searching for the driver of the rig, which appeared to have been abandoned in a remote area outside the city limits.
Officials said three people were in custody later that evening, although they were unsure if they were connected to the abandoned rig. They also couldn’t be sure all of the people traveling in the vehicle had been accounted for.
“The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis, but tonight we are dealing with a horrific human tragedy,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Monday night. “We hope that those responsible for putting these people in such [inhumane] conditions are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The deaths came as temperatures in San Antonio topped 100F (37.8C) on Monday.
Officials said it was one of the deadliest tragedies involving migrants in recent memory, and emblematic of the ongoing struggle for thousand of people that make the dangerous crossing into the United States. Texas has seen record levels of migrant crossings from Mexico this year and has been bracing for a renewed surge. Authorities say crossings are on pace to hit more than 2 million by the end of 2022.
“The plight of migrants seeking refuge is always a humanitarian crisis,” Nirenberg said Monday. He described the victims as men and women “who had families, who were likely trying to find a better life.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) shared a news story about the fatalities later Monday, and blamed the deaths on President Joe Biden.
“They are a result of his deadly open border policies,” Abbott wrote on Twitter. “They show the deadly consequences of his refusal to enforce the law.”
Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic candidate for Texas governor, said the discovery was “devastating.” He added that his thoughts “go out to the families of those who lost their lives in San Antonio today.”
“We need urgent action — dismantle human smuggling rings and replace them with expanded avenues for legal migration that reflect our values and meet our country’s needs,” O’Rourke wrote on Twitter.
Ambulances and law enforcement officials, including agents from US Customs and Border Protection, were on the scene. The investigation has been handed over to the Department of Homeland Security.