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Joburg CBD Explosion: Three Possible Causes Identified

As gas emerged as the most likely cause of an explosion that rocked the Joburg CBD, claiming one life and leaving 48 people injured, Egoli G...

As gas emerged as the most likely cause of an explosion that rocked the Joburg CBD, claiming one life and leaving 48 people injured, Egoli Gas confirmed that a “small leak” had been detected which it said was likely caused by the explosion.

There was panic and chaos on Bree Street in the CBD on Wednesday afternoon after an explosion caused the road to cave in and resulted in several vehicles being flung from the road or toppled by the force of the blast.

Thirty-four vehicles, mostly taxis, were damaged in the explosion. Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for the Johannesburg Emergency Management Services, revealed that the male victim's body was recovered from the debris early on Thursday morning.

He further stated, "Forty-one people were treated for serious injuries, ranging from moderate to minor, yesterday. They were transported to various health facilities for further medical care."

The City of Johannesburg's preliminary investigation has identified three possible scenarios which could have led to Wednesday's explosion in the CBD — but only one scenario seems likely.

City manager Floyd Brink said the ignition of methane gas in underground storm water systems due to sewage ingress could have led to the blast.
Joburg CBD Explosion: Three Possible Causes Identified

He said the second possibility was the ignition of natural gas, mixed with oxygen in underground storm water drainage systems or service ducts and the ignition of gas from a gas pipe burst could have led to an explosion.

“The third and last possibility is the ignition of gas from a gas pipe burst,” Brink added. He addressed journalists on Thursday evening at Mary Fitzgerald Square where the city has set up the command unit after Wednesday's blast that left almost 50 people injured and one person dead.

“At this stage only one of the above potential causes appears to be warranted, accidental leakage of natural gas into the service duct reaching explosion concentration levels of up to 15% and was ignited by a source unknown at this stage,” he said.

He said the source of gas in the service duct is unknown, with investigations to continue to try to locate the source in the next few days.

Brink said the buildings adjacent to the collapsed road were inspected and on Thursday evening there was no sign of failure detected, so the buildings were regarded structurally sound for occupation.

“We have also assessed the gas leaking into the atmosphere and have been assured by the environmental services and air quality controllers of the city that the gas leaking into the atmosphere poses no risk to residents as its concentration reduces rapidly in the open air,” he said.

He said, however, gas leaks into subsoil cavities such as basements can be fatal. “From yesterday evening, the city engineers and specialists from Johannesburg Roads Agency, Johannesburg Water, City Power and representatives of Egoli Gas have been on the site to ascertain facts on the source of the explosion and the triggers,” he said.

He said Egoli Gas was shutting down the gas pipelines that run through the site of the explosion. The gradual shutdown was due to be completed by 10pm Thursday.

“The process to purge the gas then will commence under the supervision of the city teams on site,” he said. Johannesburg Water has already isolated water supply to the area and deployed water tankers. This will be augmented by the deployment of mobile ablution facilities.

City Power will be deploying technicians to assess the power lines for damage along the 400m site and will only be able to re-energise the area once it has been declared safe.

Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi said Egoli Gas was the “centre of focus” in the probe into the cause of the blast. But the oil and gas company said it was “unlikely that the explosion was caused by a gas pipeline or leak”

“Our network has experienced no pressure loss which indicates the gas pipelines are intact. Our customers in the area continue to receive gas uninterrupted,” the company said.

In an update on Wednesday night it said: “The pipeline running on the road servitude of Bree Street has been checked and is not damaged. A small leak has been detected on the servitude pipeline at the corner of Bree and Eloff on a 100mm pipe.

“We believe the crack in the pipe has been caused by the collapse of the road. Our team is busy repairing this leak. Egoli Gas notes that there are about 15 other utility lines in the same area, for example a sewerage line that runs directly underneath the street. We would like to reiterate that our pipelines run on the servitude of the road.

“Egoli Gas observed through various platforms and by on-site members that one or two manhole covers have been blown off and a white gas-like substance is seen coming from these openings as well as some of the exposed cracks in the road. Egoli Gas would like to mention that our piped natural gas is not visible to the human eye and this appears to be visible warm steam.”

The company added: “We will keep the public posted as we continue assessing any damage to our network and assisting and providing piped natural gas expertise to the authorities, ensuring the area is maintained safe.” - Online Sources

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