Crews recover second victim in South Philadelphia explosion, collapse

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Crews have recovered a second victim who was killed when an explosion in South Philadelphia leveled three rowhomes and sparked a massive fireball, city officials said Saturday.

Officials now say they do not believe there are additional victims that were killed when the explosion occurred around 11:30 a.m. Thursday on the 1400 block of South 8th Street near Reed Street.

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Viewer video: South Philadelphia explosion, fire leaves two people trapped. Video by Mike Seccia.

The cause is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities, but a source tells Action News they are looking into if an October water main break could be connected.

As for the question if there was work being done on the street, officials will only say it's early in the investigation.

While many residents have been cleared to return to surrounding homes, the shock of the earth rattling explosion is painfully fresh.

"Today we actually took a look at it and it looks bad like five or six homes are just demolished there," said Ashraf Madina, who lives nearby.

Councilman Mark Squilla said the identity of the victim pulled from the debris on Saturday has not been confirmed.

"From talking to one of the family members here it was an older gentleman who was living in the building there. He was a handicapped individual who lived up on the third floor, so there was no way for him to exit the building or get out," he said.

Kiana Thompson, the principal at the Academy at Palumbo High School, confirmed to Action News that one of her students lived at the house that exploded. That student's brother was killed and his body was pulled from the rubble on Friday night.

Thompson was at school on Thursday when a man came in looking for the student.

"He said, 'I need to get a kid out early.' And I said, 'What's wrong?' He said, 'It's an emergency, the house that exploded...' I said, 'Did he live on the block or was it that house?' He said, 'It's that house.' And they both started filling up with tears," Thompson said.

While crews continued to spray hot spots in the frigid weather, Thompson said she was able to get in touch with the mother of the victim. It's a call she'll never forget.

"It wasn't very long. I didn't keep her too long. She was crying hysterically. saying, 'I don't understand. I don't understand, why did this happen? I lost my son,"' Thompson said.

Authorities responded to the scene Thursday morning after they received multiple calls about a house explosion and the smell of "possible gas."

Firefighters were there within minutes. They rushed through the flames, passing active wires, trying to reach the victims, but couldn't make it to them either.

"I talked to them. They wish they could have made that rescue. The reality is that was an incredibly dangerous situation and sometimes we do everything we can and it's just not enough," Thiel said Thursday.

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Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Theil says two people are feared dead after a house explosion on December 19, 2019.

Three rowhomes fully collapsed due to the explosion and two more were seriously damaged.

A second-alarm was struck bringing more than 100 Philadelphia firefighters to the scene.

On Saturday, the focus was on securing the site and getting utilities restored, and by Saturday night, many residents were given the all-clear to return home.

"The goal would be to learn from this and hopefully prevent something like this from ever happening again," Squilla said.

Anyone who is affected by the explosion and needs shelter should call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

The explosion compromised the road and now there is a concern of a sinkhole forming.

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