Haunting new details have emerged after "stacks of bodies" were found inside an abandoned semi-trailer in Texas, including how attempts were made to "cover up the smell".
The death toll has now risen to 51 after the victims were discovered inside the sweltering vehicle in the southern outskirts of San Antonio on Monday night, making it the deadliest human smuggling incident ever seen in the US.
A law enforcement official said many of those found inside the vehicle appeared to have been sprinkled with steak seasoning, according to the Texas Tribune.
It also appears that people had tried to jump out of the rear door of the tractor-trailer as several of those who died were found along several blocks.
Death toll rises as men arrested
Authorities confirmed on Tuesday that they had found the bodies of 46 people, while 16 others, including four children, were rushed to hospital suffering heat stroke and exhaustion.
“None of these people were able to extricate themselves out of the truck,” San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.
“So they were still in there, awaiting help when we arrived, meaning just being too weak to actually get out and help themselves.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the death count had increased by five, with three patients being treated at Baptist Medical Centre losing their lives, according to NBC News.
Of those that have died, there are 39 males and 12 females, with some believed to be teenagers.
Police have arrested three men after tracing the truck's registration to a San Antonio address.
Two Mexican nationals have since been charged with possessing firearms while residing in the US.
The third man, described as a US citizen who drove the truck, is expected to be charged but remained in hospital on Tuesday evening.
Work begins to identify the victims
While desperate families wait for news of their loved ones, Mexico’s Foreign Minister has confirmed that 22 Mexicans, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans are among the dead.
Nationalities of the remaining 20 people are yet to be confirmed.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division has since launched a criminal investigation into the highest ever death count from a smuggling incident in the US.
Yesterday's loss of life in San Antonio is horrifying – my prayers are with those who lost their lives, their loved ones, and those still fighting for their lives.
My Administration will continue to do everything possible to stop criminal smugglers from exploiting migrants.
— President Biden (@POTUS) June 28, 2022
In a statement, US President Joe Biden has described the deaths as “horrifying and heartbreaking.”
“Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as it political grandstanding around tragedy, and 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,” he said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.