Saturday, April 13

Bree Street, Johannesburg was the site of an industrial accident that saw an underground gas explosion obliterate the road.1 Residents have been urged to stay away from the area in the Central Business District.2 According to the city’s Metro Police Department, the explosion occurred between Bree and Simmonds Streets in the CBD.3 The explosion occurred on Wednesday evening last week, with eyewitnesses taking to social media to share shocking video footage and images of large and deep cracks on the road.4 The area was a scene of chaos and confusion with cars overturned and damaged with dozens of stationery minibuses.5 According to JMPD, emergency services were on their way to access the situation, however, no fatalities have been reported as yet.6  The CBD smelled of gas with the police and paramedics still looking for injured people.7 This is a disaster that shook the largest metropolitan area in Southern Africa.

“These are; ignition of Methane Gas in underground storm water systems due to sewerage ingress, the ignition of natural gas, mixed with air (oxygen) in underground storm water drainage systems or service ducts and the third and last possibility, is the ignition of gas from a gas pipe burst.

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 “At this stage the only potential cause appear to be warranted, accidental leakage of natural into the service duct reaching explosion concentration levels of 05-15% and was ignited by a source unknown at this stage. The source of gas in the service duct is unknown. Investigations in this regard will continue to try locate the source over the next few days,” Brink said. Brink also said the buildings on either side of the Bree Street blast are structurally sound. “At this stage, there is no need to evacuate the buildings in the area and as stated, Joburg Water will provide mobile water and sanitation services to residents in the area. “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 and as its concentration reduces rapidly in open air. However, gas leaks into subsoil cavities such as basements can be fatal,” he said. (Johannesburg CBD Explosion: The Three possible causes identified by the City)

This explosion that occurred in the CBD was possibly ignited by methane gas leaking out of a damaged pipe into sewerage ingress. There should be an independent investigation by the local and provincial government tiers into what happened in the Johannesburg CBD, given its importance as South Africa’s heart of business and industry. An explosion such as the one that took place in Johannesburg’s CBD could have been impacted by mining activity below. Of course all this could have been avoided if proper inspections were made below surface regarding the pipes and ducts. The leakage below one the busiest areas of one of South Africa’s major cities need to be investigated by an independent team.

Whether this explosion can be blamed on corruption should be investigated. It is a miracle that there were no deaths. The fact that the buildings of the CBD survived intact, shows that good structural policies was obeyed. As regards to the leakage itself and whether the officials responsible for monitoring it should be questioned is another matter. As the case unfolds it should be considered remarkable that this explosion wasn’t worse or that people could have died. It should be a cause for relief that the buildings didn’t collapse. Now the residents have to rely on water supplied from outside the CBD due to the closure of the pipes. This follows load shedding and water cuts due to a lack of fresh water. The state needs to take this into account and make a plan to reform the safety regulations and laws to prevent such tragedies.

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