Authorities said a suspected subterranean gas explosion during Johannesburg’s evening rush hour ripped through highways and flipped more than 20 cars, injuring at least nine people.
The nine were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, according to authorities. Other people were evacuated from the area owing to fears of a second explosion or the collapse of multi-story buildings in a run-down downtown district of the city.
“Buildings are in danger of collapsing,” Panyaza Lesufi, the premier of Gauteng province, where Johannesburg is located, said. “The damage is extensive.”
Authorities assessed that five city blocks had been affected. Lesufi reported 23 overturned automobiles. Huge fissures and holes emerged in the middle of roads, some of which were so large that automobiles slipped into them.
While gas was suspected as the origin of the explosion on downtown Johannesburg’s popular Bree Street, Lesufi said it was unclear whether the gas came from a leak in the city’s underground pipelines or from another, undetermined source.
In a statement, Johannesburg gas supplier Egoli Gas claimed it was unlikely that one of their pipelines was to blame. The company stated that there was no interruption in supply in the area and that its investigations discovered no leaks.
The 5 p.m. explosion occurred as several people gathered on the street to get a minibus taxi home, one of South Africa’s most popular city commuting routes. Several minibus taxis and other vehicles were flipped over or left on their sides, with some resting on top of another vehicle.
Eyewitnesses said people were already inside some of the minibuses when the explosion threw them into the air. In the immediate moments after the blast, people were seen running as smoke poured out of a crack in the road.
One man, who did not give his name, told television station eNCA that he was in his car when he heard “a big sound. The next thing, I was in the air and my car was overturning,” he said. He said he was shaken but unhurt.
Emergency crews were searching through some of the mangled, overturned vehicles and nearby buildings, and Lesufi said there could be more injured people. He said it was surprising but a relief that no deaths were reported.
Lesufi said rescue workers were worried about the amount of gas that had leaked out as a distinct smell of gas hung in the area.
“This place is still dangerous,” he said.
Earlier this month, a toxic nitrate gas leak killed 17 people, including at least three children, in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The leak was blamed on an illegal gold processing operation in the settlement.