Worcester blast: 'They were thrown into the air' - fire chief

2019-07-11 19:48
The gas truck that exploded in Worcester in the Western Cape on Wednesday.

The gas truck that exploded in Worcester in the Western Cape on Wednesday. (Twitter/@EltonGreeve)

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The Worcester fuel tanker explosion's shockwave was so fierce that two fire fighters and two security guards were thrown off their feet, the Breede Valley Fire Chief said on Thursday, as mopping up from the catastrophe continued. 

"I have never seen something like that in my career," said Theo Botha.

"They were thrown into the air," said Botha. 

"It is something I have only seen in training videos. I am just thankful that there were no fatalities." 

But it was those very training videos that helped prepare the response team for the chain of unprecedented events in the usually peaceful town at around 06:00 on Wednesday.

Piecing together a likely scenario, Botha said it seemed that a tanker containing what is thought to have been Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) sprung a leak. 

The exact type of gas has not been determined yet.

READ: 'We are lucky to be alive' - eyewitness recalls moments before Worcester gas explosion

This may have been due to the tanker allegedly reversing into a pole, as stated by Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell. 

Botha said the driver, realising what had happened, is understood to have run away from the truck to summon help. 

Knowing that a cellphone could spark an explosion near the gas, he may have been putting some distance between himself and the truck before making the emergency call as cellphones are known to potentially trigger explosions near gas. 

However, a bakkie is then understood to have driven through the gas.

Botha said LPG is liquid when it is in its tanker, but when it is released, as may have happened after the alleged accident with the pole, it looks like a cloud of mist.

"He probably didn't know," said Botha. "It looks like mist."

Botha said the gas leak may have happened due to damage caused by the alleged accident Bredell referred to. 

Botha said theoretically, one way that driving through a gas cloud could cause a blast may be due to sparks emitted by some components of a vehicle's engine when it is running.

He likened it to putting a small spark next to a gas stove being switched on.

He said that after the explosion, 63-year-old logistics manager Bennie Koch managed to get out of his bakkie.

He ran down the street with parts of his body on fire, and was helped by Klaas de Vos, an employee at Raimondi's Wholesalers in Worcester. 

News24 reported earlier that De Vos heard Koch's cries for help after the first explosion, and helped him to safety and to a hospital. 

A second explosion then occurred. 

Koch's vehicle was reduced to a small grey pile, with his wife Elmien telling Maroela Media that he had been on his way to fetch a friend at the time.

Botha said that during the explosion, two other people waiting at nearby traffic lights were also injured and were taken to hospital, and two firefighters and two security guards were thrown off their feet as a result of the blast wave. 

Botha said the firefighters were in shock after what had happened as they were near the tanker.

They were given some time off to recover after being discharged from hospital.

The guards appeared to have escaped physical harm, but were also in shock.

Botha said he did not think that he and his colleagues would see something like that again in their careers.

They were nevertheless glad they had all been trained in how to deal with a gas fire. 

"Today it looks like an area of carnage," said Botha. 

However, water and electricity had been restored and the road had been reopened, although it was seriously damaged. 

Western Cape police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said a case of reckless and negligent driving and malicious damage to property had been opened for investigation because buildings and vehicles were burned.

Read more on:    worcester  |  explosion
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