The number of people who died crammed into the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart store in Texas on Sunday believed to be a case of human trafficking has climbed to 9 from 8 yesterday.
Authorities said they believe the horrific incident was a case of immigrant-smuggling gone wrong. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had to be called in to help in the investigations. ICE acting director Thomas Homan said that based from their initial interviews with the survivors, there may have been as many as 100 people crammed inside the tractor-trailer at some point. Homan also said some survivors they have spoken to admitted they were from Mexico.
Thirty-eight people were found inside the packed vehicle when authorities responded based on a report from a Walmart employee who was approached by one of the survivors asking for water. Authorities said the rest of the passengers may have fled or were picked up before the police arrived at the scene. Some are believed to have ran off towards the wooded area near the store.
The driver was arrested, and will likely face charges. Nearly 20 others were rescued and were brought to the hospital where they are still in dire condition, many having to fight extreme dehydration and heatstroke amid the midsummer Texas heat.
8 people were found dead inside the 18-wheeler truck when the authorities arrived. This is not the first time that such a smuggling-by-truck operation has ended in tragedy. Back in 2003, in one of the worst cases on record in the U.S., 19 immigrants locked inside a stifling rig died in Victoria, Texas.
Homan described the incident as a “horrific tragedy.” Authorities have yet to clarify whether the rig was locked when they arrived, whether the vehicle was used to smuggle the occupants across the border into the U.S., or where the truck-trailer is headed. San Antonio is nearly a 150-mile (240-kilometer) drive from the Mexican border.
The victims were very hot to the touch when the authorities responded. There were also no visible sign of water in the vehicle. The truck-trailer also did not have a working air conditioning at the time it was discovered. The temperature in San Antonio reached 101 degrees (38 Celsius) on Saturday and didn’t dip below 90 (32 C) until after 10 p.m.
The condition of the people inside the trailer-truck would not have come to light if one of the survivors did not ask a Walmart staff for water. The employee gave the survivor water and then reported the matter to the police.
Surveillance video from the store showed that several arrived to pick up people from the truck.
The tractor-trailer, which had an Iowa license plate and was registered to Pyle Transportation Inc. of Schaller, Iowa.