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    They Hitched a Ride Home From Work. Then, a Night of Horror Unfolded.

    On Saturday night, eight women climbed into the back of a truck to drive home from their factory job in central China’s Henan province. None of them survived the journey.
    Jun 18, 2024#disasters

    What started as a routine workday ended in unspeakable horror in central China on Saturday night, as eight women asphyxiated in the back of a truck that was giving them a lift home from their factory job.

    The women were reportedly riding in the back of a refrigerated truck, which regularly acts as a makeshift shuttle bus for workers at a meat processing plant in rural Henan province.

    The driver of the vehicle found them unconscious after stopping at a gas station at 10 p.m., local media reported. Emergency workers rushed to the scene, but rescue efforts were unsuccessful and all eight women died. The driver and people in charge of the plant have been held under control and investigations are underway, according to a statement released by a joint investigation team.

    The women were residents of a few different villages in Pingdingshan, a city in the south of Henan province, according to domestic media. At least three of them had children.

    Authorities have yet to confirm a precise cause of death, but early reports indicate that the women suffocated due to leakage from dry ice stored in the back of the vehicle.

    Several witnesses told domestic media that the truck was also being used to transport packs of beef at the time of the incident. “There was no room for people, they had to squeeze in tightly,” one person told reporters. “When the doors were opened, they all fell out.”

    Freight vehicles are banned from carrying passengers in China, but the meat processing plant appears to have flouted this rule regularly.

    The husband of one of the victims, surnamed Yang, told domestic media that the refrigerated truck offered lifts to workers from nearby villages every day.

    Yang’s wife had started working at the plant as a temporary worker just days before the accident. She was paid 100 yuan ($14) per day, plus an extra 20 yuan for overtime work exceeding an hour.

    Her job was to package beef for distribution. The plant bought raw beef from suppliers, then processed, packaged, and froze it, before shipping it to clients in refrigerated vehicles.

    Each morning, the refrigerated truck would pick Yang’s wife up from a nearby gas station at 7 a.m. and drive her to the plant — a roughly 15-minute journey — and then drop her off again at the same gas station after her shift ended each evening, Yang said.

    Normally, Yang’s wife would send him a message to let him know that she was in the truck on her way back from work, and he would pick her up from the gas station. But on Saturday, that routine was broken.

    At 9 p.m., Yang messaged his wife, but received no reply. He sent several messages and called her multiple times over the following two hours, but still couldn’t get through to her.

    Finally, at 11 p.m., one of Yang’s calls connected, but it was a stranger’s voice at the other end of the line. “Something happened to her,” the person said. At around 1 a.m., Yang arrived at the Ye County People’s Hospital, where he found his wife’s body.

    It’s unclear when the plant started to use the refrigerated truck to transport workers. Doing so can be highly dangerous. The cabins of refrigerated trucks are more airtight than those of regular vehicles to better insulate the air conditioning, an auto industry insider told domestic media.

    “The cabin is insulated, it’s actually like a giant refrigerator,” the person said. If someone in the cabin banged on the walls, the driver might hear some noise, but it wouldn’t be very loud, they added.

    “With eight people in such a small, enclosed space, it wouldn’t take long for them to fall unconscious due to the high carbon dioxide level,” one emergency rescue training provider told domestic media. “Anyone inside would feel drowsy and then fall into a coma.”

    The truck driver and several other individuals are being investigated by the police and could face prison sentences of up to seven years if convicted, according to local media.

    Zhao Liangshan, a lawyer from Shaanxi Hengda Law Firm, said that the driver is likely to be found partially or fully responsible for the accident and the company could be liable for compensating the victims’ families.

    (Header image: A view of the refrigerated truck where eight women were found dead in Ye County, Henan province, June 2024. From @中国新闻周刊 on Weibo)