Likely cause of fatal South Philadelphia explosion, fire was natural gas leak: Officials

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Fire officials said Thursday afternoon that the likely cause of a fatal explosion in South Philadelphia was a natural gas leak.

"The proximate cause was a leak of natural gas from piping in the street," Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said during a news briefing.

Philadelphia Gas Works Executive Vice President Doug Moser says the crack happened in a 6-inch cast iron gas mane from 1928.

Officials said there were no prior reports of the pipe leaking ahead of the December 19 blast that claimed the lives of two people and destroyed three rowhomes in the 1400 block of South 8th Street. Water officials also said there were no active work orders for the Philadelphia Water Department at the time of the explosion.

Neighbors and crews desperately tried to get to the victims, but two victims were trapped in the rubble and did not survive.

In the days that followed the incident, area businesses and residents rallied to help by raising money and offering free meals.

Now, nothing stands where the row homes once stood.

"Five families directly across from where we live were destroyed and those five families lost everything they ever had in their entire lives," said Francis Hoeber.

Residents in the area say they have not gotten enough answers as to what caused the blast.

"I haven't heard once from any utilities company," said Matt Allen, who lives around the corner from the explosion site.

One of the victims was 65-year-old Rudi Kambong, who was bedridden. The other victim was 28-year-old Brian Diu.

"They're very broken-hearted. Very sad," said Steven Wigrizer, the attorney representing Diu's family. "Nobody has provided the family with an explanation."

Since the explosion, there have been seven water main breaks and the street remains closed.

"You better not open that street up until this is settled," warned longtime resident Dominica Federico.

Councilman Mark Squilla said that it's important that the city take a look at aging infrastructure for all neighborhoods.

"It's important to note since the water main on that block has experienced several breaks since the explosion, Philadelphia water has begun the process of replacing it," said Philadelphia Water Commissioner Randy Harman.

Thiel said the investigation into the "root cause" of the explosion is still underway.
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