Survivors at South Africa bar where 21 people died say they were choking on a mysterious substance that smelled like tear gas or pepper spray

·2 min read
south africa pub
Forensic personnel carry a body out of a bar in the city of East London, South Africa.STR/AFP via Getty Images
  • At least 21 people were mysteriously found dead in a bar in South Africa on Sunday.

  • Survivors said they had choked on a substance, with one saying it smelled like tear gas or pepper spray.

  • The cause of the deaths remains unclear. Officials suspect an accidental poisoning.

Survivors at a South African bar where at least 21 people were mysteriously found dead said they were choking on a substance that smelled like tear gas or pepper spray, multiple reports say.

At least 21 people, most of whom were underage, were found strewn across floors and tables in the Enyobeni Tavern in the city of East London, South Africa, on Sunday morning, DispatchLive reported.

The youngest victim was 13 years old, police said, the BBC reported.

Kamvelihle Matafeni, a 18-year-old student, told The Washington Post that she went to the bar with her friends for a widely-advertised party that was being hosted by two popular local DJs.

Matafeni told The Post the bar started to fill up, and she saw something hurled through the door and into the crowd.

People around her began to scream, "I can't breathe" and "I'm choking," she said. Matafeni said she also struggled to breathe and was pushed toward the door.

"People were falling around me," she told The Post. "They were dying right in front of my eyes."

She ultimately managed to get out of the bar, The Post reported.

Another 17-year-old student, identified only as Sinethemba, told Al Jazeera that the bar was overcrowded and some people had been asked to leave when a substance was sprayed into the crowd.

"We suffocated for a long time and [were] pushing each other but there was no use because some people were dying," she told Al Jazeera.

"It smelled like gas. I'm not sure if it was tear gas or pepper spray. Then some people died and I also fell asleep for three hours," she said, adding that she eventually woke up and was picked up by a family member.

It is unclear who could have sprayed the substance in the bar. The South African Police Service did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, and told The Post it had made no arrests so far.

Authorities previously said they ruled out a stampede as the cause of death because were "no visible wounds" on any of the victims, Agence France-Presse reported.

Unathi Binqose, spokesperson for Eastern Cape's provincial community safety department told Reuters on Monday: "It is either something they ingested which will point to poisoning, whether its food or drinks, or it is something they inhaled." A toxicology report remains underway.

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