Local updates on the human toll of the accident have increased from an initial 19 deaths to an estimated 30 as workers assessed the widespread devastation of the disaster area.
The train, carrying coal from the region’s Witbank coalfields to the Maputo port in neighboring Mozambique, reportedly dragged the truck for 200m, leaving limbs and body parts scattered on the ground around the track.
According to the South African Press Association, 44 fruit pickers were on the truck when the train struck and all survivors, including the driver, were critically injured.
“It is a very gruesome scene,” police spokesman Joseph Mabusa told SAPA on Friday.
“Some bodies are without heads and some without limbs.
“Forensic teams are still working on the scene.”
The Railway Safety Regulator said there were no injuries to the train crew and no damage to the train or track.
Provincial safety officials suggested the truck driver crossed the level railway crossing without stopping to check the path was clear.
South African national rail operator Transnet said the train driver hooted the horn to warn the driver he was approaching.
Police have detained the truck driver who is being charged with 25 counts of murder as an investigation into the incident continues and criticism escalates from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, focusing on loose labor standards.
“This terrible tragedy exposes once again the scandal of workers bring transported in open trucks,” Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said.
“In a country where drivers and passengers of cars are legally obliged to wear seatbelts, how can we tolerate workers being transported with absolutely no protection in the event of an accident?”
South African President Jacob Zuma extended his condolences to the bereaved families and encouraged police to investigate thoroughly, taking appropriate action in evidence of wrongdoing.