South African police are still trying to piece together the mystery that claimed the lives of 21 teenagers in the southern city of East London. According to AFP, survivors described the incident as a battle to escape a jam-packed tavern after a suffocating smell was detected. Seventeen of the twenty-one victims died inside the bar, while four died in the hospital.
According to officials, another 31 people were hospitalized due to symptoms such as vomiting, headache, backache, and chest tightness. At first, it was thought to be a tragic case of underage drinking gone wrong, but on Monday, more details emerged as survivors described a suffocating ‘pepper spray’-like odor inside the crammed double-story structure.
Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, who worked at the bar to promote an alcohol brand, admitted to being “confused” but thankful to be alive.
“I passed out at that moment. I was running out of breath and there was a strong smell of some type of spray-on in the air. We thought it was pepper spray,” she told AFP.
Someone later splashed water on her, causing her to regain consciousness.
The drinking age in South Africa is 18, but township bars, which are frequently located next to family homes, do not always enforce safety restrictions and drinking-age requirements.
Autopsies are being performed to determine whether the deaths were caused by poisoning. This week, a forensic examination will be carried out.
Unathi Binqose, a government official in charge of safety, stated that samples had been obtained and were on the first flight out today to Cape Town, where the tests would be conducted.