/ 19 July 2023

One dead, 48 injured in Johannesburg CBD explosion

Six days on: Johannesb by Scott Peter Smith

One person died and 48 were injured in a suspected gas explosion that tore through Johannesburg’s busy Bree (Lilian Ngoyi) Street just after 5pm on Wednesday, according to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi.  

The explosion ripped open the tar surface and the ground under it, near to Bree’s eponymous taxi rank, leaving the busy road resembling a gaping wound.  

By early Thursday morning, authorities were still trying to dissuade dozens of residents from using the pavements in the area, and from walking over the uplifted road itself – where the smell of gas remained strong – for fear of a second blast or potential structural collapses. 

Many residents in the impact zone of the explosion told media that they were walking over the jigsawed road in order to get to work, others were simply there to look at the damage. Taxis and vehicles still lay overturned, windows shattered or completely obliterated. 

According to authorities, the explosion could have been caused by methane gas, piped gas, or illegal mining.  

Briefing the media on Thursday morning, Lesufi said authorities were working around the clock to investigate the cause, after learning that Egoli Gas had pipelines in the vicinity.

“Egoli Gas remains our centre of focus because all of us agree that the cause of this explosion – or impact – is gas, so that we can isolate all institutions who have the legal mandate to deal with gas,” said the premier. 

Egoli Gas, however, said via a statement that it was highly unlikely its reticulated natural gas pipelines were responsible for the explosion. 

“Egoli Gas has taken meticulous inspection and has ascertained that neither the Egoli Gas network nor any gas pipeline leak was the cause of the explosion. Our network has experienced no pressure loss which indicates the gas pipelines are intact.”

The company’s pipes cut across Eloff and Bree streets, according to Lesufi.  

City Power said its services in the CBD had been affected because of the explosion. “Three substations: Bree, Braamfontein and Johnware substations are currently off until the Joint Command Team comprising the CoJ Emergency Services, Disaster Management and other CoJ and Provincial units have given the go ahead.” 

City Power further said that according to its preliminary assessments, it did not look like the sub stations were affected immediately after the explosion, as some areas were still receiving power. 

“The substations were loadshed at 18h00 until 20h00, and our teams decided that we should not switch them on for fear that it might ignite [given reports] of a suspected gas leak in the vicinity.”

City Power spokesperson, Isaac Mangena said they had isolated the Bree Street substation to determine the cause of the impact on its electricity structures.

“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,” said Mangena. 

Assessors and technical experts had made their way to the scene to assess the damage and structural integrity of buildings, according to Lesufi.  

Bree Street remains closed off to traffic between Pixley Ka Seme (Sauer) and Von Wielligh streets, according to the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD).

The JMPD said motorists should expect “closures on all the streets crossing [Bree] Street between Rahima Moosa and Plein Street, including Simmonds Street, Harrison Street, Loveday Street, Rissik Street, Joubert Street, Eloff Street and Von Brandis Street”.

Lesufi said another media briefing would be held at 1pm on Thursday.