Philadelphia officials said that a natural gas explosion that destroyed five homes and killed two people Dec. 19 likely was triggered by a leak from a cracked century-old gas main.

The gas explosion rocked the 1400 block of South 8th St. in South Philadelphia about 11:30 a.m., sending a giant fireball above the city. The blast and subsequent fire leveled five historic rowhouses, killed two people, and forced the evacuation of 60 people. Residents said the gas explosion ripped the heart out of their neighborhood, leaving them with concerns for their safety and a lot of questions.

City and state officials attempted to answer some of those questions in a public meeting last week.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said investigators would get to the root cause of the blast but the probe “will take some time.” He said the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and other partners would keep people informed as the investigation proceeds.

Part of that investigation will include determining whether “any violations of state or federal pipeline safety regulations” played a role in the blast, according to a statement from the commission.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the natural gas main at the center of the investigation is 92 years old. Residents of the area wonder if or when another deadly explosion could occur in the future considering that some of the pipes in the area are more than 150 years old and still in use.

Those who live in the area told city officials that they have reported gas and water leaks before the explosion and have continued to report similar problems since. They say the city has done nothing so far.

Officials said the city’s Water and Streets Department responded to a break in the water main a few weeks before the gas explosion, but it’s uncertain whether that break and the subsequent repair work broke the gas line.

Approximately half of Philadelphia Gas Works’ 3,024 miles of pipeline infrastructure consists of cast-iron mains, which become brittle with age, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The utility company accelerated its efforts to update its pipes in 2016 but so far just 34 miles of pipeline have been replaced. Federal regulators say that Philadelphia Gas Works has more cast iron pipes and leaks than any other utility in Pennsylvania, according to the Inquirer.

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