Residents and authorities in Johannesburg are currently puzzled by the cause of the recent explosion that occurred in the central business district (CBD). The explosion, which was of significant magnitude, has raised concerns and left the community seeking answers.

By Staff Reporters

One person was killed and 48 others injured in a powerful explosion that tore through a significant portion of Bree Street in Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) on Wednesday afternoon.

Numerous vehicles, primarily minibus taxis transporting thousands of commuters to and from the nearby taxi rank, were overturned and destroyed, resulting in stranded commuters.

On Thursday, authorities were still evaluating the magnitude of the damages and investigating the cause of the explosion that devastated one of the busiest streets in Johannesburg.

According to officials at the scene, the exact number of fatalities, casualties, and missing persons is still uncertain. The government has urged people who are missing their loved ones or have experienced damage to their properties, particularly vehicles, to come forward and report at the nearest police station.

Earlier today, certain streets were still closed as emergency experts from the city and province thoroughly investigate the area for evidence. Yesterday, Premier Panyaza Lesufi called for an urgent meeting to determine the cause of the explosion that caused significant damage to the asphalt, resulting in a sizable sinkhole in the heart of the city.

“We have formally invited all institutions that deal with gas since we suspect gas. We now have Egoli Gas and Sasol, and we are bringing in everybody who has cables or pipes buried underground. We sincerely believe that Telkom, Water, or any other institution will help us identify the impact’s cause and provide us with the necessary guidance,” said Lesufi.

He further said the impacted region would have no power in order to enable the experts in carrying out their tasks.

“In order for the team to enter and determine the problem, City Power decided to turn off the Bree Street substation after being contacted by us,” Lesufi said.

Earlier speculations suggested that a gas pipe had exploded, causing concerns about a dangerous release of gas, similar to the incident that claimed the lives of 17 people in the Angelo informal settlement in Ekurhuleni, located to the east of Johannesburg, three weeks ago.

The Johannesburg gas utility, Egoli Gas, was prompt in dismissing concerns by stating that it was improbable for the gas pipelines to be damaged as they were all in good condition.

“Our network has experienced no pressure loss, which indicates the gas pipelines are intact. Our customers in the area continue to receive gas uninterrupted,” it said in a statement. 

The government is now uncertain about the cause of the explosion, as this statement has left them confused.

Lesufi has confirmed that Johannesburg Water and Environmental Health are among the specialists searching for possible causes.

“We all know that there is a strong smell of gas in the vicinity, even if Egoli Gas says that it is not their pipeline. Therefore, environmental health professionals are helping us identify the source of this gas,” he said.

Illegal mining

In 2018, BusinessTech issued a cautionary note about the potential collapse of a specific area within the city. This concern arises from the presence of illegal mining activities, which pose a threat to several significant landmarks in Johannesburg.

Around the same time, the Sunday Times also reported fears that both Transnet and Sasol have sounded a similar alarm fearing potential dangers that could be coursed by illegal miners, otherwise known as Zama Zamas.

According to reports, Zama Zamas are detonating explosives dangerously close to highly flammable gas and fuel pipelines beneath Johannesburg. If any of these pipelines are harmed, everything within a 300-meter radius will be completely burned. The report also mentions that these pipelines run through significant areas such as the M1 double-decker highway, M2, sections of Soweto, and Soccer City Stadium.

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