Officials cite gas leak from pipe as likely cause of deadly South Philadelphia gas explosion

City officials held a press conference Thursday to give an update following the South Philadelphia gas explosion that claimed two lives at the end of 2019. 

The gas explosion and subsequent 3-alarm fire happened at 8th and Reed Streets on Dec. 19, 2019. Neither of the victims killed in the gas explosion were identified. 

During the press conference, officials explained that an approximate cause was a gas leak from a pipe in the street.

“The Fire Marshall’s Office has determined that the proximate cause of the explosion and fire was a leak of natural gas from piping in the street,” Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.

"Our fire marshals investigation preceded as quickly as it could and obviousy we confirmed what folks initially thought, which is not always the case," the fire commissioner went on to say. "There could have been a lot of different causes, potentially."

Officials are still investigating the root cause of the explosion, which is still unknown. They expect it to take more time to come to a conclusion as to what actually was the cause.

Officials explained in depth the amount of restoration work that has been completely and is still underway on the 1400 block of South 8th Street. 

“First, I’d like to express on the behalf of the Philadelphia Water Department our sympathy and condolences to two individuals who lost their lives in this tragic event,” Water Commissioner Randy Hayman stated at the start of his address.

Since the explosion, the Philadelphia Water Department disconnected water lines, installed new valves, restored water service to remaining properties, and repaired multiple leaks (six on the water main). 

The initial water main break caused intermittent disruptions.

Water service was fully restored to residents on the block on Jan. 9; however, a new water main break has been reported. Officials are currently working to find the cause of that break. 

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“Within 90 minutes [of the explosion] we were able to secure the natural gas, which was feeding the fire,” PGW Executive Vice President & Acting COO Doug Moser said.

Philadelphia Gas Works will be sending the broken pipe out to a lab for further tests to determine the root cause of the leak and subsequent explosion. 

Altogether, three houses collapsed and two others have severe structural damage. Officials said a couple dozen other homes have some type of damage.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, several dozen people were evacuated and displaced due to the dangerous blast.

As a result, officials planned to demolish the site of the explosion.

Some residents speculated that a sinkhole near the blast site may be to blame, however officials from the Philadelphia Sewer Dept. said all repairs in the area were complete at the time of the blast.

Officials are urging citizens to always call 911 if they smell an odor as it could be the sign of a potentially dangerous gas leak. 

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