By Howard Monroe


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Officials say a natural gas leak from piping in the street likely caused the deadly row home explosion and fire that happened in South Philadelphia in December. Two people were killed and five homes were destroyed in the Dec. 19 explosion and fire that rocked the 1400 block of South 8th Street.

The street remains closed to vehicle traffic, and neighbors say they’re ready to get their lives back in order. But first, they have questions they want to be answered.

“The gas pipes are from 1859. Have they ever been replaced since 1859? Anybody?” resident Domenica Federico said.

Federico is demanding answers from city officials about December’s South Philly gas explosion. She says she moved to South 8th Street 30 years ago, and she says the explosion left a void in the block and its sense of community.

“It’s taken the heart out of our neighborhood,” Federico said.

On Thursday, fire officials said the explosion and resulting fire was caused by a crack in a six-inch cast-iron gas main.

“We certainly anticipate getting to the root cause of this incident will take some time and we’ll continue to provide whatever support we need to [Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission] and our partners as that investigation proceeds,” Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.

Neighbors say they’ve reported gas and water leaks before and after the explosion and they claim the city has done nothing.

“You guys can say anything in the media, but you’re not doing anything about it,” one neighbor said.

“You come knocking on my door [city councilmember] Mark [Squilla] when it’s time for voting. Don’t you? ‘Vote for me. It’s time. I’ll do this, I’ll do that.’ I don’t see anybody coming knocking on my door now,” Federico said.

Squilla represents the area.

“Knowing what we have to address, their issues and how we do them safely is important,” Squilla said.

Philadelphia Gas Works says the gas main on South 8th Street dated back to 1928. Officials say the Water and Streets Departments responded to a water main break in the weeks leading up to the explosion but did not say if their repair work damaged the gas main.

With tensions rising, the city’s managing director offered an apology.

“I do want to apologize to the residents. You all have been through hell and I can’t imagine what it’s been like waking up every day. We’re doing everything we can to address those concerns,” Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy said.

The city says work will begin next week to rebuild the roadway and get the street reopened. That work includes replacing both the gas and water mains.