Four policemen died and three were injured when they arrived at an accident scene involving two trucks, one of which was carrying explosives.
The explosion happened at about 2am between Mokopane and Polokwane in Limpopo. The injured are being treated in a local hospital.
“They are stable and it looks like they will be okay,” the police’s Ronel Otto told The Citizen.
The other truck was carrying groceries, and its driver was burnt beyond recognition.
The explosion caused an almost eight-metre wide hole in the surface of the road, and people on the scene said it was almost two metres deep. Parts of the truck could be found in a 400-metre radius around the blast site. It took hours to locate all of the body parts, which were covered by orange cones.
The road was closed for the whole day and is expected to remain closed on Friday. The four policemen who were killed were busy securing the area when the trucks exploded.
Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, promised to take serious steps against those responsible for the explosion. “It is yet another case of four precious lives lost on our roads.” She added that no one can be blamed for the blast until the investigation is completed.
“Safe carriage of dangerous material on our roads must at all times be uppermost in the minds of those responsible. Those who are found to have acted recklessly and negligently will have to face the full wrath of our laws.”
Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega visited the scene yesterday and thanked all men and women in blue for their tireless work.
Government spokesperson Phumla Williams offered his deepest condolences to the family of the victims.
“It is indeed a sad day for government and the people of the country to have lost men in the line of duty… Citizens should pause and remember to thank law enforcement officials who are the first responders to accidents and other criminal activities. ”
By late afternoon Otto did not have any details on the company transporting the blasting cartridges, nor what the explosives were to be used for. “All those details will emerge in the next couple of days,” she said.
‘Enough explosives to open a mine’
Police estimate three tons of explosives caused the almost eight metre wide crater.
Otto said these type of blasting cartridges are usually used in construction and in the mining industry, but specifics were not yet available.
The head of the University of Witwatersrand’s chemical engineering department, Professor Sunny Iyuke, said: “In blasting; usually two to three tons would be used to open a whole mine,” he said.
“I do not know exactly what type of explosives it was so I can’t be too technical. But the pressure of the explosion could cause a temperature of up to 2 000°C,” he said.
Iyuke said these type of blasting cartridges do not have airborne chemicals that are harmful to people after an explosion, although those that were on the scene might suffer chemicals burns.
Sanral’s Vusi Mona said yesterday that the roads agency’s CEO, Nazir Alli, would visit the site and determine what the damage amounts to.
“We are an integral part of the investigation into the blast and after tests are conducted we will make a decision on our way forward and whether we need to send in our engineers,” he said.
Otto said almost “nothing is left” of the two trucks and that a forensic team was on the scene until last night.
“It was a huge explosion. We are sad that we lost some of our own,” she said.