In the weeks before the South Philadelphia explosion that left two people dead and several homes destroyed, neighbors had been dealing with partial road closures and near-constant digging on South Eighth Street as workers tried to repair some defective water pipes.
The city Fire Department, the lead agency in the investigation, has not yet determined the cause of the explosion. But following the blast, some neighbors on the 1400 block of South Eighth Street wondered whether the street work was in part responsible.
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City spokeswoman Deana Gamble said Monday that all underground issues, including leaks and a cave-in from October, were repaired, backfilled, and inspected in November.
“There are no recent defects on this street,” she said in an email.
Philadelphia Gas Works spokeswoman Melanie McCottry also stated that the utility company had no prior complaints from residents in the area.
“We also did not receive any reports of gas odor from the public to our 24-hour hotline” in the three months leading up to the explosion, McCottry said.
On Oct. 2, the city Water Department went to the 1400 block of South Eighth Street after receiving a call about a leak on the street and a cave-in. Department workers determined that four homes on the block had defective laterals, which are the pipes that connect homes to the city sewer. The water department also found and fixed a leaking pipe that connected to the block’s fire hydrant.
Laterals are homeowners’ responsibility. Notices were issued for all four properties, asking the homeowners to repair the pipes.
As each homeowner hired a contractor to fix a lateral, the Streets Department came by to fill in and seal the ditches created by the plumbing work. The Streets Department fixed six plumber ditches on that block.
Gamble said it’s unclear how long the hydrant and other private laterals had been leaking underground.
“PWD’s investigation determined that none of these leaks compromised the integrity of the infrastructure in their vicinity,” Gamble said.
Gamble said that all pipes were fixed by Nov. 18. There was also more recent work done at the end of the block at the corner of Eighth and Reed Streets. A new water service line was installed for 1400 S. Eighth St. with a permit effective Nov. 27. The work was completed and inspected by Dec. 6, Gamble said.
The gas company, in the meantime, has installed a temporary 4-inch plastic main to restore gas service to the homes on the block. It is unclear whether the full main will be replaced. PGW will determine next steps based on the fire department’s investigation.
The 6-inch main that served the block where the homes blew up was installed in 1928 and was not on any near-term replacement schedule, according to the PGW spokesperson.
“It’s pretty terrifying when you think about South Philly — who knows what kind of older gas systems, electric systems everyone has,” said Sara Wachter-Boettcher, who lives a block from the scene of the explosion. “Something like this makes you worry about the density here and think about how it could all go down.”