1 dead and 48 injured after suspected gas explosion in South Africa

One man died and at least 48 people were injured after a suspected underground gas explosion ripped open roads and flipped vehicles in the heart of South Africa’s biggest city, authorities and emergency services said Thursday.

Firefighters found the man’s body found under a vehicle.

The cause of the blast at evening rush hour Wednesday in downtown Johannesburg remained unclear. The company that supplies gas to that part of the city said it did not believe its underground pipelines were responsible, as authorities first thought.

An investigation was underway as city authorities brought in specialists to determine what other underground pipes or cables there were in the area and if there was a threat of another explosion or gas leak.

“We are still searching for the source,” said Panyaza Lesufi, the premier of the Gauteng province, where Johannesburg is located.

Firefighters discovered the body of the man in a nighttime search of the blast area, Emergency Management Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said on Twitter.

Lesufi said 12 people remained in several Johannesburg hospitals for medical treatment. The other 36 people who were hurt had been discharged, he said.

Some people were evacuated from the area Wednesday night due to fears of a second explosion or that multi-story buildings in a downtown section of the city might collapse. Lesufi said “the damage is extensive.”

However, people returned to the busy area in Johannesburg’s central business district on Thursday morning, either to go back to their homes or get to work.

Authorities estimated that an area covering five city blocks was damaged and at least six roads were affected. At least 34 vehicles were damaged, with some of them flipped on their sides or lying on top of other vehicles. Others had tumbled into gaping crevices that appeared in the middle of roads as the damage resembled a scene from an apocalyptic movie.

The explosion happened just before 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Lesufi said, just as many people were gathering on the streets to catch a minibus taxi home, one of South Africa’s most common commuting methods. Most of the damaged vehicles were minibus taxis. Eyewitnesses said some people were sitting in the buses when the explosion threw them into the air.

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.

In the immediate moments after the blast, people were seen running as smoke poured out of a crack in the road.

Emergency crews searched through some of the mangled, overturned vehicles and nearby buildings deep into the night, discovering the one fatality while the number of injured rose from an initial nine people reported on Wednesday.

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