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South African police are looking for leads after 21 teenagers die

#South #African #police #leads #teenagers #die

South African police combed a township tavern where 21 teenagers mysteriously died on Monday, as survivors described a struggle to escape the crowded compound and one reported a suffocating smell.

Most of the victims, some as young as 13, were found dead in a popular bar in the southern city of East London.

Seventeen died in the bar while four died in hospital.

Thirty-one others were hospitalized with symptoms including back pain, chest tightness, vomiting and headaches, an official said.

Most were discharged Sunday, with two remaining hospitalized, they said.

The deaths showed no visible signs of injury, prompting initial speculation among local officials and politicians that this was an underage drinking case gone tragically wrong.

But new details emerged on Monday, when survivors spoke of a strong and suffocating odor in the cluttered two-story building.

Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, who was hired by the bar to promote a brand of alcohol, said she was still “confused” but felt lucky to be alive.

She said she struggled to escape through a door jammed with people.

“We were trying to move through the crowd shouting ‘Please let us through’ and others shouting ‘We’re dying folks’ and ‘We’re suffocating’ and ‘There are people who can’t breathe,'” she told the news outlet AFP .

“I passed out at that moment. I was out of breath and there was a strong smell of some kind of spray in the air. We thought it was pepper spray,” she said.

She later regained consciousness after someone sprayed water on her.

“I got up and found bodies lying around. I saw people getting water poured on them, but those people didn’t even move,” she said in a phone interview.

Special investigators from Pretoria were rushed to the scene of the crime.

“Detectives will resume their work at the crime scene today,” regional police spokesman Thembinkosi Kinana told AFP.

– ‘Traumatized’ –

Many of the victims are believed to have been students celebrating the end of their high school exams, officials said.

Autopsies are being conducted to see if the deaths could be linked to poisoning.

“The autopsies (were) completed by last night and the bodies will be delivered to their families today,” said Yonela Dekeda, spokeswoman for the provincial health authority.

Forensic analysis will be conducted this week.

“Samples were taken and were on the first flight today to Cape Town where the tests will be conducted,” said Unathi Binqose, a government security official.

Drinking in South Africa is legal for those over the age of 18.

But in township taverns, which are often adjacent to family homes, safety and drinking age laws are not always enforced.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is among those who have raised concerns.

The teenagers are said to have “gathered in a place that, at first glance, should be off-limits to anyone under the age of 18,” he said.

A resident DJ, who was also celebrating his birthday that night, spoke of an onslaught of revelers pouring into an already packed venue.

“We tried to close the door but people kept pushing. The bouncers couldn’t handle the crowd that crammed in front of the front door. There were so many people,” said the DJ.

He turned off the music to discourage revelers, but to no avail.

The crowd was just “unruly and unmanageable,” he said, adding that he was “traumatized.”

In a tweet, African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed his thoughts and prayers “at this time of unspeakable sadness and grief.”

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#South #African #police #leads #teenagers #die

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