Eyewitnesses describe South Philadelphia building collapse

collapse South Philadelphia
Eight people were injured in the collapse. Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

Neighbors described a terrifying scene following an explosion Monday morning that caused the collapse of three rowhomes on the 400 block of Daly Street in the Whitman section of South Philadelphia and injured eight people.

“I thought it was an earthquake tremor like the one we had last year,” said Star Brown, who lives just two doors away from one of the properties.

“But this was like a big boom. My heart was beating really fast and I was afraid to come outside. I thought maybe we were under attack.”

She said she went outside, where she saw the property at 428 Daly St. had apparently folded in on itself, bringing down neighboring homes at 426 and 430 Daly St.

Brown said she saw a young couple emerge from one of the properties carrying a baby.

“They came out with dirt all over them,” she recalled.

“One guy looked like his arms were broken. He was walking around and they were just dangling, like they didn’t work. They took him to an ambulance.”

Brown said one worker who was inside 428 Daly told her he was reading the Quran “when, all of the sudden, the roof came down on him.”

“I heard an explosion,” said Kathryn Logan, who lives around the corner from Daly Street.

“I thought it was two cars that crashed. I thought, ‘What the heck is that!’ But then somebody told me a building collapsed.”

When she walked around the corner to investigate, Logan said, she saw chaos.

“There was dust everywhere,” she said.

“I went around there and saw a lady running with her baby. She was holding the baby’s face, I think on the left side.”

Deputy Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer told reporters on the scene that firefighters shortly after 11 a.m. responded to a report of an explosion and found eight injured people, most of them residents of the block.

Four adults and three juveniles – two of them infants – were hospitalized in stable condition, while one man, a contractor working inside 428 Daly St., was placed in critical condition with burns covering over 20 percent of his body.

“The reports that we have presently is that the contractor was working on a water heater and there were some issues with the water heater,” Sawyer said, adding police interviewed the injured man as he was being transported to the hospital so all information gathered is still being considered preliminary.

The seven victims who were not seriously injured were treated at Jefferson University Hospital and released around 4 p.m. Monday, according to hospital officials.

Philadelphia Gas Works employees shut down the main leading to the street, and city officials confirmed Monday night a natural gas leak was to blame for the blast.

Sawyer said the cause of the leak had not yet been determined Monday,.

Many residents said they smelled a strong odor in the days and hours leading up to the explosion.

“Yesterday I smelled gas,” Logan said, adding the odor was so strong, she even checked her basement to make sure everything was in order.

“I was looking around because I thought maybe it was one of the cars but it wasn’t a car because I went outside and looked.”

The home at 428 Daly St. was purchased in March by SCK Investments, LLC, according to city property records.

Records further show permits were issued in April for major renovations that included complete electrical rewiring, the installation of a furnace and air conditioner and the replacement of piping.

Brown said the house’s facade was also being revamped.

People were initially evacuated from 70 homes on Wolf and Daly streets and housed at John H. Taggart Elementary School nearby.

Though residents on the 400 block of Wolf Street were allowed back inside Monday afternoon, it was unclear when those displaced from an estimated 48 homes on Daly Street would be able to re-enter.

Fourteen evacuees remained at the school Monday afternoon.

“We’re still early into the situation,” Sawyer said. ”We haven’t even been able to think about when we can let people back in.”

Brown said she’s unsure what her future will hold.

“Now every house on that side [of the street] is in jeopardy because they’re all off balance,” she said.

“Going forward, I feel unsafe. I just feel crazy.”


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