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INNER-CITY DISASTER

Joburg gas blast — process underway to declare local state of disaster as investigations continue

Joburg gas blast — process underway to declare local state of disaster as investigations continue
Executive Mayor of Johannesburg Kabelo Gwamanda with his MMCs during an oversight visit to Lilian Ngoyi Street on 24 July, 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

A week ago, an explosion in the heart of the city of Johannesburg caused massive destruction and one death. The city is scrambling for answers and resources.

City of Johannesburg officials are now working on a process to declare the gas explosion that ripped through Lilian Ngoyi Street (previously Bree Street) seven days ago a disaster, a move which will unlock resources for the rehabilitation of the road and underground tunnels.    

Currently, there are gas pipelines running parallel to water lines in the underground tunnels which the city admitted was problematic. 

This was revealed by the head of the technical team overseeing the disaster and city manager, Floyd Brink on Wednesday during a technical media briefing.  

He indicated a process was underway to compile a report to the Provincial Disaster Management Centre (PMDC) through the Disaster Management Centre in order to commence with the necessary legislated processes to declare the explosion a local state of disaster.

“The declaration of the disaster is critical in order to allow us to assess the impact of the explosion on infrastructure and to cost the rehabilitation work required. To classify the disaster accordingly in line with the Act and to declare the disaster accordingly once the outlined processes have been concluded. 

“We have mandated the Disaster Management Centre to commence with the processes and to finalise a report for submission to the PDMC within the next seven (7) days.”   

The explosion tore up 450m of the four-lane, one-way road, sending taxis and cars flying. One person died, 34-year-old Joseph Dumisane, and at least 48 were injured as the street collapsed.

 

 

Daily Maverick previously reported that the source of the gas was unknown. When probed on the source and type of gas which may have caused the explosion, Brink would not be drawn into speculation except to say, investigations were still underway.     

Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Joburg confirms gas caused deadly explosion, but can’t say from where    

“We are clear that it is a gas explosion, what the source is a bit difficult to say because we are waiting for some results from the laboratory, secondly, there’s an ongoing investigation…it is difficult to pinpoint the source, the cause, the cost and the duration of the process. Whatever it is we are speaking about remains unknown, up until such a time that we remove the rubble,” Brink said. 

In a statement, the City said: “As you are aware, investigations are still inconclusive on the cause of the explosion and what may have ignited the gas or the source of the gas in the underground tunnels. We continue to receive regular updates from the experts.”   

A team of engineers from various entities of the City has since been established, to begin with the planning and scoping of the work the city will have to undertake.  

Joburg gas blast

Executive Mayor of Joburg Kabelo Gwamanda (front right) with his MMCs during an oversight visit to Lilian Ngoyi Street on 24 July, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle)

“We are now beginning our planning for the rehabilitation and repair work of the road surface and underground service tunnels in Lilian Ngoyi Street,” the City stated.    

In rehabilitating the road surface and underground tunnels, Brink said the city would have to implement new standards on how the underground service lines and connections are laid out and managed. Currently, there are gas pipelines running parallel to water lines.  

“This is not ideal and as we prepare to restore [Lilian Ngoyi Street], our work will seek to set the standard of what should be the most suited, safe and appropriate layout of services infrastructure in a City like ours.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Johannesburg’s emergency call for engineers, gas-detection experts after CBD explosion exposes dire skills gap 

Without giving timeframes, Brink said the team would soon be preparing a report to share with the executive of the city and council on the explosion, response and recovery measures. 

Power and water being restored to residents

Following the explosion, residents were without water and power. Brink announced that City Power was on Tuesday able to restore power to several areas including; Bank City, Pritchard, west of Loveday, Jeppe, West, Diagonal, Sauer, Harrisson, President, Simmonds Streets and all the surrounding areas west of Lilian Ngoyi Street, including Wanderers Taxi Rank.

He also indicated that repair work to two broken sewer connections at Lilian Ngoyi and Loveday Streets and at Lilian Ngoyi and Von Brandis Streets had been completed, leading to the reconnection of sewer services to the area.  

“As of today, we are confident all residents in the area should be reconnected and have access to regular sewer services,” said Brink.

The City added, “It has been of paramount importance to us to restore services to residents in the area as a matter of urgency and we are pleased to have achieved this milestone. We wish to thank the residents of the area for their patience and consideration and we will continue to monitor the area for any disruptions that may occur as a result of the work still to be undertaken.”  

Kabelo Gwamanda, Joburg gas blast

Executive Mayor of Joburg Kabelo Gwamanda during an oversight visit on July 24, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle)

Businesses in and around the area remain closed following the City’s decision to cordon off Lilian Ngoyi Street indefinitely. 

Daily Maverick spoke to several taxi drivers and retail workers who expressed concern at being unable to make a living as a result of the closure. 

The Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI)’s CEO  Bernadette Zeiler said it was ​​actively developing strategies to aid affected businesses and contribute to the city’s recovery efforts.  

“In times like these, we are reminded of the importance of unity and collaboration and committed to working collaboratively to resolve infrastructure challenges. We believe that together, we can overcome these challenges and emerge stronger. We remain steadfast in our commitment to serve the businesses and people of Johannesburg, particularly in times of crisis. We are here to help and will get through this together,” Zeiler said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    unless JHB is sitting on a hitherto unknown natural gas resource, this was simply a culmination of bad maintenance and lack of early warning. Side-bet : somebody messed up while stealing gas from the municipal gas pipe system and nobody at council noticed the negative pressure test needle moved. JHB had piped LPG for decades, same as many major global cities. Next up, a R10b project to dig up all the pavements and roads….

    • Dave Buerger Buerger says:

      Either a genuine gas leak from underground piped gas lines or a sewer methane gas explosion – more likely in my view.

  • Dave Buerger Buerger says:

    I cannot believe that they need to declare a state of disaster in order to “assess the impact” on services. Surely Joburg must have a few (non cadre deployed) qualified engineers that can assess the impact on their underground services? Joburg also needs to find someone qualified to be their spokesperson. The words attributed to the CM seem to have been uttered by a halfwit.

  • Martin Neethling says:

    The utter incompetence of it all makes one despair. Initially there was a desperate call from the City for engineers and experts. Then there was an announcement that the area’s roads would be closed off ‘indefinitely’. Now this talk of a State of Disaster. What is clear is that by default the approach is to expand this project into the biggest work stream possible. The bigger the better one fancies, because this means more time and more access to funds and in turn, more procurement processes to feed off. A clear parallel to fire at Parliament now more than 18 months ago. Entire buildings can be built in that time yet all that was required was to repair and restore a specific section of building and roof. Getting thing done does not sit naturally with most of our government officials.

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