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Johannesburg - Five people were killed – including four policemen – by a blast when a truck carrying explosives blew up in Limpopo on Thursday morning.
Another three policemen were taken to hospital, one of whom had his leg amputated.
Police spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Ronel Otto, who was on the scene on the N1 near Mokopane, described it as “horrific”.
“Next to the road, the grass and trees are flattened for 100m. There’s a crater in the road. There’s shrapnel as far as 400m from the truck.”
Otto confirmed four police officers were killed by the blast.
The driver of a grocery truck was also killed. The grocery truck was believed to be travelling behind the truck carrying blasting cartridges at about 2am on Thursday.
Both vehicles were headed north along the N1 when they collided.
Police arrived at the scene as the explosives truck caught fire and blew up.
Vehicles nearby were peppered with shrapnel.
“As far as we know, the drivers did not sustain injuries,” said Otto.
On Thursday morning forensic investigators and senior detectives were investigating and the N1 remained closed between Mokopane and Polokwane, Otto said. By 10.30am, smoke was still billowing from the site as they combed the scene.
“It is a sad day for the government and the people of the country to have lost men in the line of duty,” said acting government spokeswoman Phumla Williams.
“The government offers its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the deceased.”
A group of top officials, including Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha and national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega, went to the scene.
“This is terrible news; we can’t even describe it,” said Kenny Mathivha, spokesman for Mathabatha.
According to early information, Mathivha said the explosives truck was destined for Zambia.
Netcare 911 paramedics arrived at the scene this morning and spokeswoman Santi Steinmann said the area was cordoned off.
The paramedics treated two people with serious injuries, then took them to hospital, but Steinmann could not provide further details.
An expert on dangerous goods transportation, Keith McMurray, said regulation around transporting explosives was described in the Explosives Act. However, he said there was no specific legislation that explosives were not allowed to be transported at night.
“Because it was dark, it was probably very difficult for the first responders (the police), to follow normal procedure in first identifying what the truck was carrying,” he said.
Vehicles transporting explosives, outside those controlled by the SAPS or SANDF, need a permit issued from an appointed explosives inspector from within the police, according to the act.