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Death toll in Texas migrant tragedy rises to 51, driver in custody, 2 charged (Ld)

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Houston, June 29 (Ajit Weekly News) Another migrant died at a local hospital, pushing the death toll in the tragedy in San Antanio, a city in Texas, close to the US-Mexico border to 51, authorities said.

At least 46 undocumented migrants were found dead inside an abandoned lorry next to railroad tracks in a remote area on the city’s southern outskirts on Monday, Xinhua news agency quoted the authorities as saying.

Some of those found alive reportedly remained in critical condition on Tuesday. After the truck packed with nearly 100 people was discovered on Monday, at least 16, including four children, were taken to area hospitals due to heat exhaustion and dehydration, local officials said.

Among the dead, five were children. At least 27 were from Mexico, three from Guatemala and four from Honduras, local media reported, citing officials from these countries.

“CLONED” TRUCK

The truck driver, who was caught in a nearby field after he fled on foot, and was described as a US citizen, is now in federal custody and expected to be charged, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told The New York Times on Tuesday.

Two other men, both Mexican citizens, were charged on Tuesday with possessing firearms while residing in the United States illegally, according to court documents and US authorities. Police arrested them at an address in San Antonio listed on the tractor-trailer’s registration.

The San Antonio Express-News reported that someone had “cloned” the truck with the same color and identifying numbers from the US and Texas transportation departments as one owned by a South Texas trucking company in an apparent move to evade authorities.

A vigil was held in the rain Tuesday evening at a San Antonio park.

“It’s unspeakable,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on MSNBC Tuesday. “It’s a tragedy beyond explanation.”

Those found alive were hot to the touch and suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion. There was no sign of water in the refrigerated tractor-trailer and no visible working air conditioning unit, according to San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood.

Temperatures in San Antonio climbed to 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees centigrade) on Monday, while the heat in the packed trailer was likely way higher than that, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

FATAL BORDER CROSSING

US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that initial reports showed that the tragedy was caused by smugglers or human traffickers.

“Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy,” Biden said in a statement, one day after Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott blamed the deaths on what he called the president’s “deadly open border policies.”

“My administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry,” said Biden.

The US Customs and Border Protection said it encountered 239,416 people along the US-Mexico border in May, hitting a record high.

–Ajit Weekly News

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