South Africa


Joburg CBD street collapses after explosion, residents instructed to leave area

Joburg CBD street collapses after explosion, residents instructed to leave area
An explosion left destruction in its wake tearing up Bree Street in the Central Business District of Johannesburg, South Africa on 19 July 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Parts of Lilian Ngoyi Street in Johannesburg’s CBD collapsed on Wednesday after what was initially suspected to be a gas line explosion. While emergency services remained on the scene, the city manager claimed the situation was under control.

What was initially suspected to be a gas line explosion in the centre of Johannesburg caused the collapse of parts of Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree Street) as people in the heart of the CBD returned home after work on Wednesday evening. At least a dozen injured people were rushed to hospital.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion as the road tore open and then alarms sounded from overturned taxis and injured passengers started screaming.

The cause of the disaster had, late on Wednesday night, yet to be ascertained. 

“I heard a vibration from down [there],” said Vincent, a security guard at a residential building next to the explosion. “It was vibration for two seconds; then it blew up.”

Emergency services personnel attend to the scene of a suspected gas explosion in the Johannesburg CBD on 19 July 2023. (Photo: Yeshiel Panchia)

A suspected gas line explosion left destruction in its wake in the Johannesburg CBD on 19 July 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Destruction in the Johannesburg CBD. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The aftermath of a suspected gas line explosion in the Johannesburg CBD, South Africa. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Almost 100m of the busy roadway appeared to have been torn down the middle, with overturned vehicles littering the pavement. Dozens of disaster management personnel, firefighters and police attended the scene, attempting to enforce a cordon.

The overwhelming response was in stark contrast to previous incidents in Gauteng’s metros, such as the Boksburg tanker explosion that claimed 43 lives in late 2022.

“People have indicated from that side that they are starting to have headaches and chest pains,” said Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, who attended the scene.

While a gas line explosion was the suspected cause, gas lines run beneath the pavement, not under the roadway itself, and they operate at low pressure and thus are unlikely to cause an explosion, according to a statement issued by Egoli Gas, which manages the municipal lines in the city. 

Egoli gas said its network had experienced no pressure loss which indicated that its pipelines were intact. It added that a team was on site to investigate whether there were any gas leaks but none had been found by the time of publishing.

An hour after the incident, what seemed to be a faint smell of gas lingered in the air.

Lesufi confirmed that a team from Egoli Gas was on the scene.

“They are on the scene to advise us on the evacuation, the nature of the gas, its effect, and what needs to happen when this kind of gas is inhaled,” he said.

Illegal mining operations are known to be conducted in and around the Johannesburg CBD and were also discussed as possible causes by police on the scene. 

At least a dozen people, including a City Power employee, were transported to hospital with injuries ranging from minor to severe, according to messages and requests for assistance on local emergency services groups.

 The degree of damage to neighbouring residences had not been ascertained.

Joburg CBD road collapses after suspected gas line explosion

A suspected gas line explosion left destruction in its wake, tearing up Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree Street) in the Central Business District of Johannesburg, South Africa, on 19 July 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“It [the road] was bursting,” said a witness, who filmed the incident on his phone. “I was waiting here on the corner. I don’t know what happened. The road just burst.”

Bystanders crowded around the police tape surrounding the disaster site, with many people receiving orders from disaster management services to leave their apartments. Private security and police escorted people out of nearby buildings.

Disaster in the CBD of Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

A suspected gas line explosion left destruction in its wake in the of CBD of Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Residents from nearby buildings are evacuated after an explosion in the Johannesburg CBD. (Photo: Yeshiel Panchia)

The roadway of Lilian Ngoyi, formerly Bree Street, after an explosion. (Photo: Yeshiel Panchia)

“We still need to do some search and rescue,” said Johannesburg City Manager Floyd Brink.

“It’s not 100% clear exactly where [the cause of the explosion] is from.”

In a statement, City Power said services within the Johannesburg CBD had been affected.

Three substations: Bree, Braamfontein and Johnware substations were not switched back on after load shedding last night and would remain so until the Joint Command Team comprising the CoJ Emergency Services, Disaster Management and other CoJ and Provincial units have given the go-ahead.

“Bree substation is a few meters away from the area with the huge impact, and the suspicion is that its structural integrity may have been affected. Our team of engineers and technicians are on site doing assessments and tests on the network to get the extent of the impact on the electricity infrastructure,” the statement read.

A joint operations committee, with representatives from the South African Police Service, Disaster Management Services, and other key stakeholders, has been formed to investigate. 

“It’s definitely under control. It’s not a ticking time bomb,” Brink said.DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Less than a week ago I warned that this was inevitable in Kensington just outside a crèche where thieves cut into gas lines to steal gas, (just as they do eith electricity, water, and cables.) the massive incompetence of anything the ANC touches, (not to mention that you and I will now have to fund the repairs,) is tragic, but these idiots spend more time challenging competent leaders than actually managing the infrastructure. I’m embarrassed to admit that for a few seconds I enjoyed seeing taxis getting their comeuppance.

  • Jennifer D says:

    I recall a time when our then efficient government would have checked gas lines and illegal mining wouldn’t have happened. I remember when Johannesburg CBD was a safe place, had wonderful shopping and no litter. Why could this not have been preserved – why is there an ongoing need to steal, disrupt, break and destroy?

  • Johan Fick says:

    Man this looks like a greetingcard sent by Putin!!! Perhaps some of these people will get a sense of what the war in Ukraine feels like.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Illegal mining under Johannesburg has clearly undermined, and put at extreme risk the entire fabric of the City of Johannesburg – a stark and vivid comment on the decline into lawless anarchy that is ripping our country apart.

    From this illegal mining, the illegal tobacco industry, the lawlessness of the taxi industry, the treasonous anarchy of much of the Zulu community, all of which support and sustain the ANC and the EFF, our country is being decimated as Squirrel sleeps on the job.

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    No signs of pressure change in the SA context does not mean that there was no leak – The fact that the explosion was not directly over the pipe also means nothing – maybe just that the management system was broken or was incompetently managed. Gas, like water. will find its own route until it erupts to the surface in the most unexpected places.
    Don’t hold your breath for the truth – just more political spin, hubris and bluster. Expect motor mouth Mbalula to take centre stage.

    • Lesley Young says:

      But now we are in the position where we have Desmond Tutu who never told a lie, JZ who never told the truth, and Mbalula who doesn’t know the difference!

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    It was probably a methane explosion in a sewer line that hasn’t had any maintenance for 29 years.

  • Lesley Green says:

    I’m wondering whether there was a methane or nitrous oxide build up in the sewer lines?
    A similar incident happened in Adderley Street, central Cape Town in 1937. Pictures are available online.
    Are the sewage pipes situated where the major explosion was reported to have split the road?

    • Andreas Joss says:

      I thought the exact same thing!

    • P B M .. says:

      I also saw a video on a series called “Seconds to disaster” in which a similar kind of underground explosion happened in (correct me if I’m wrong) Brazil caused by a frayed electrical wire next to a gas line which caused a spark. The so-called Engineers unwisely decided to put electrical wires in the same vicinity as gas lines!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    More like a Methane Gas explosion in sewage pipe caused from no maintenance and no water to flush it away!

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Sorry, see that Lesley Green and I think alike! Unintentional agreement but quite possible that it is the sewer pipes with the current water shortage in Jo burg!

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