Joburg CBD explosion: Underground secrets unveiled

An explosion in Johannesburg's Lillian Ngoyi Street highlights the need for improved infrastructure maintenance and safety measures.

The explosion at Lillian Ngoyi Street, previously known as Bree Street, may have been caused by a mystery gas coming from underground tunnels, sealed with concrete manhole covers.

Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi said the initial thinking was the cause of the explosion was liquid petroleum gas supplied by Egoli Gas.

“There is no confirmation regarding the cause of the explosion. We have preliminary reports from the department of labour. We’ve got reports of all institutions that have one form of infrastructure underground… Telkom, Egoli Gas, Sasol, City Power and all those institutions,” he said.

@GaySpeakNews on Twitter told The Citizen they had spoken to an engineer, who noted “there are sewers as broad as a room below the streets”.

“The metal covers were stolen, so the council closed the ventilation ducts with concrete. No ventilation can happen = methane explosion,” the organisation said.

The premier said a preliminary report by the department indicates that there may be similarities to an incident that occurred in 2010, also in Johannesburg.

“What has happened here is similar to what has happened at Yeoville… what is known as Telkom Towers. They claim that there are similarities and on the basis of that… there are three manholes that are an interest to their investigations.”

Emergency services initially blamed underground gas pipes for the blast but the city’s privatised gas company, Egoli Gas, said it was “unlikely” as customers were still receiving their supplies uninterrupted.

However, it issued a statement after an initial inspection, saying that “one or two manhole covers” had been blown off and a “white gas-like substance” was seen coming out of these openings.

Lesufi said the area was not safe “We are urging businesses and residents to move out. Until there’s a report that says the buildings are safe, we are treating it as not safe. We will take responsibility if something happens.”

Lesufi also confirmed that Lillian Ngoyi Street would be closed for some time.

“The damage is extensive.”

Additional reporting by AFP and