JOHANNESBURG — At least 16 people were killed in a gas leak at an informal housing encampment on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the police said on Wednesday.
An emergency official said the deaths resulted from a leak in a cylinder of gas at the encampment, called the Angelo informal settlement, near the district of Boksburg in Gauteng Province. The South African Police Service said two other people were taken to the hospital for treatment, according to The Associated Press.
Emergency services officials initially said that as many as 24 people had died, but later revised the death toll. The reason was not immediately clear.
A spokesman for the emergency services, William Ntladi, told local news outlets that officials had received a call about an explosion about 8 p.m. local time, but found instead that there had been a leak.
The cylinder of gas was found in a shack at the settlement, he said, adding that women and children were among the dead.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, identified the gas as nitrate oxide. The type of gas found in the cylinder is often linked to illegal mining, the broadcaster said.
But Mr. Ntladi said it was not immediately clear that illegal mining was linked to the leak, according to Sky News. “Whether the illegal miners are among the deceased, that is not yet known,” he said.
The gas leak was later stopped and rescue teams were searching a 100-yard radius around the cylinder to check for more victims, according to The A.P., citing Mr. Ntladi.
Panyaza Lesufi, the premier of Gauteng, visited the site of the leak and told reporters: “It’s a painful scene to go through and to watch. I’m very hopeful the teams will do everything in their power to ensure that this scene is appropriately guarded in a manner that will assist us to know the cause and provide answers to those who are affected.”
He said the victims were “eight males, three females, and three children.” They were not immediately identified.
Mr. Lesufi also posted on Twitter footage of what appeared to be large cylinders mounted on wooden racks at the scene, along with a cylinder on the ground that he said had been the source of the fatal leak. His conclusions could not be independently verified.
In December, Boksburg, a community about 30 minutes east of Johannesburg, was the site of a gas tanker explosion that killed at least 10 people, injured at least 60 others and left a scene that one person compared to a “war zone,” with twisted vehicles, clothes melted into peoples’ bodies and bystanders missing limbs.
The tanker became stuck beneath a low overpass and exploded with a blast that could be felt nearly half a mile away, officials said.