I felt my intestines grow cold with fear. “I’ve never witnessed anything like this,” Themblane Mutonwa said on Thursday.
“When pandemonium engulfed this part of town, the first thing that came to my mind was that it was an earthquake or a building collapse around us.”
Mutonwa, who sells sweets along Lilian Ngoyi Street – formerly Wild Street – was right there when Powerful explosion They tore off the road Wednesday afternoon.
Describe moments of confusion where people couldn’t figure out what was happening.
“The first reaction of many was to run away from the scene, but some were also curious and started to gather and take pictures with their mobile phones,” Mutonwa said.
Read more at The Daily Maverick: Emergency teams are racing to find the source of the Johannesburg explosion as the city center remains turbulent
It was initially assumed that the explosion was caused by an underground gas leak. However, Gauteng’s chief minister Panyaza Lesufi said on Thursday, an initial report suggested that problems with the three underground junction boxes – the enclosures containing the electrical connections – may have been the cause.
“We have three possible scenarios here… We may have a gas problem, the cause could be lithium, or illegal mining activities,” said Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the Johannesburg emergency services.
He warned spectators to stay away from the area.
Mulaudzi said: “We are concerned about the possibility of a secondary explosion and appeal to the population to stay away from it.”
Mulaudzi said his ministry has not yet assessed whether the structural integrity of buildings in the area has been compromised.
Authorities said tenants in adjacent blocks of flats were not told to vacate, but were warned to stay away from the blast site.
The Mayor of Johannesburg, Cabello Guamanda, expressed concern about the homeless people living in the area, saying they would be relocated to a safe place. It was not clear what arrangements had been made.
Many residents were expecting to be evacuated, especially after JES warned of the possibility of a secondary explosion.
“I am very happy to leave this place. I hope I can now take cover over my head,” said Gift Ndlovu, who has been living on Lilian Ngoyi Street for three years.
Ndlovu said he was waiting for the authorities to give directions on where to go.
Many of the people living in apartments along Lilian Ngoyi Street decided to stay in the area, while others moved their belongings.
Keith Makhachua, one of the tenants in a building near the blast site, said, “I want to leave, but I can’t do it right now because I have a lot of belongings here. I haven’t spoken to the authorities yet about how the evacuations will be carried out. I am concerned about my belongings.”
Ronald Chiza worried about staying in his home: “I can’t take this risk. Until last night I didn’t sleep here… I spent the night with my friends in Berea.”
“It was scary. It was crazy,” said Litho Makhnia, who lives in an apartment in the area with a friend.
“I’m still shivering. It’ll take me a while to get back to that building or any building in the Inner City. It’s scary. Whatever it is, it has erupted from underground.
Priscilla Dlamini was nearby when the accident occurred.
She said, “I came to do my hair, but while I was busy inside, we heard the explosion and the commotion.”
“When I went out to check, I discovered that two more vehicles had smashed my car. I’m lucky I wasn’t in the car at the time,” she said.
“There has been increasing concern about the unknown state of the underground infrastructure, and to be honest with you, that is pretty scary.”
Companies are suffering
The impact on business was significant. Joburg Water closed at least 10 valves, affecting many in the city centre.
This comes after Joburg Water shut off the taps last week to do so maintenance upgradesthat left many without water for days.
“Last week’s water outage affected my cooking. My business was affected again yesterday, and now I don’t know how long it will take to recover,” said Lungil Gull, who sells food along Lilian Ngoyi Street.
But from what I saw today and what the authorities say, my business will suffer more losses.
“I don’t know if I’ll come back from this. I might be forced to close or downsize, and that means selling in the town where I don’t have many clients,” Gole said.
City Power also deactivated the Bree substation, further affecting local businesses. Residents said they were unable to prepare meals due to the power outage, adding that they were temporarily prevented from using gas for cooking.
The authorities also ordered the closure of shops near the blast.
Said one of the owners of X-Meat Express on Lilian Ngoyi Street Daily MaverickHe said: “The officers are not clear when this can be resolved, and we need those assurances because we are running a business. We cannot tell our workers to come tomorrow, because there is very little information we get.
“We were struggling to recover from last week’s water outage which resulted in losses for the company, and now this is happening.
“If this is not resolved today or tomorrow, we will lose more than a million rand in perishable goods. We have a lot of stock that we may have to get rid of if it is not sorted quickly. Internet lines are also down yesterday and today.
Prime Minister Lisofi confirmed one death and several injuries.
The victim’s body was found trapped under overturned cars at the corner of Lilian Ngoyi and Joubert streets. His identity has not been released.
Lisofi confirmed that of the 48 injured, eight remained in hospital. More than 30 vehicles, most of them mini-taxis, were damaged.
By Thursday afternoon, some people were still trying to retrieve their cars from the scene.
The stretch of road where the blast occurred is a transport hub within the city that is usually bustling with people and traffic.
It will likely take the council weeks, if not months, to repair the damage to the street and subterranean infrastructure. DM