'Truly chaotic': Fire commissioner addresses South Philly gas explosion

Authorities continued to search Friday for two people believed to have been trapped when an explosion destroyed several row homes in south Philadelphia a day earlier.

City Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said responders made two attempts to rescue someone they saw was trapped, but the blaze was intense and collapsing buildings pushed the person away from them.

"It was beyond difficult conditions, truly chaotic," Thiel said.

Family members of a second person have said that person is missing, and Thiel is "fairly confident" the person is in the debris.

He said there are no reports of others missing, but investigators don't know if some other passers-by may also have ended up buried in the rubble.

"Our overriding goal right now is to locate any known or potential casualties from this incident," Thiel told reporters.

The fire was extinguished, but freezing temperatures overnight left the scene covered with ice, and Thiel said the large and unstable debris will have to be taken away piece by piece.

He said the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that were poured on the fire may have made the nearby street unstable and unable to accommodate heavy equipment.

Several dozen people were evacuated because of the fire, which occurred not far from the city's famed Italian Market.

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

An investigation into what caused the explosion and fire is underway. Some residents speculate that a sinkhole near the blast site may be to blame.

"There was a possible sink hole, I would call it a giant pothole, and they had been working on it and by the end of the day they would seal it up with one of those heavy metal plates," Mike Seccia said.

The Philadelphia Sewer Dept. says all repairs in the area were complete at the time of the blast.

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