Fire Department workers on Saturday night recovered the remains of a second victim from inside the wreckage of homes leveled during Thursday’s explosion and fire in South Philadelphia, city officials said.
The discovery came about 24 hours after rescue workers pulled the body of another victim from the rubble on the 1400 block of South Eighth Street, and represented the latest step in what could be a lengthy process to clear a mountain of debris — and to determine what caused the explosion in the first place.
Officials have not identified either person found during the excavation. But Sinta Penyami, a friend of 65-year-old Rudi Kamong — who had been on bed rest and had not been seen since the explosion — said that his body had been pulled from the wreckage Saturday.
Officials also have not said what may have initiated the three-alarm blaze, which Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel on Friday called “gas-fed.” He did not provide another public briefing Saturday, and has said that answers could take “quite some time” to determine.
Crews had been attempting to search the site since the fire was placed under control Thursday, fighting bitter cold and contending with three destroyed rowhouses, two others declared structurally unstable, and a street that had been undermined and had started to show signs of a potential sinkhole.
Police cars and fire vehicles blocked the street Saturday as workers from a variety of agencies — including the Fire Department, PGW, Licenses and Inspections, and the Office of Emergency Management — canvassed the scene.
Large excavators began demolishing the two unstable properties following the extraction of the second victim. A man who lived in one of those houses, and declined to give his name, stood next to a parked police car and watched as the walls of his house were torn down, occasionally taking pictures with his cell phone.
City Councilman Mark Squilla said at the intersection of Eighth and Dickinson Streets Saturday night that most residents whose homes were not damaged had been able to go back inside after being temporarily displaced. He said officials were working to try and restore any utilities that remained suspended.
Squilla said the demolition efforts were likely to speed up following the removal of the second victim. He called the situation a “tragedy,” but said: “These neighborhoods are very resilient. They really have each others’ backs."
Francis Hoeber, 77, and his wife, Ditta, live two doors down from the center of the explosion and were watching Saturday as their neighbors’ homes were torn down.
Francis Hoeber said after he heard the blast Thursday, he went outside with a fire extinguisher to try to help prevent the flames from spreading.
Ditta Hoeber said a woman came into their house through the back after seeming to escape from one of the properties shattered by the blast. Hoeber said she did not know the woman’s name, but gave her socks and washcloths because the woman had walked through glass and other debris in bare feet.
Michael Micali, 38, was not at his home on the 800 block of Dickinson Street at the time of the explosion, but said when he got home, all of his picture frames had fallen from the walls to the ground. He said his cousin was among the first on the scene, and showed videos he said she recorded of the fire growing in strength.
Malony Ban, who lives a few doors from the site of the blast, said her glass door cracked and chunks of the ceiling fell onto her couch. She grabbed her 22-month-old son, Eisen Savath, who she said has a problem eating and has a feeding tube, along with a blanket for him and ran into the subfreezing temperatures with one arm through a hoodie, and a pair of flip-flops.
They made it out safely, but have been unable to return home since, she said Saturday. She has been staying with in-laws but remains rattled.
“I feel like it’s a nightmare that I want to wake up from," Ban said, "but this is a reality.”