Nutter mum on cause of South Philly explosion [video]

The city of Philadelphia is continuing its investigation into Monday’s explosion in South Philadelphia, but so far have not announced a cause for the blast.

“Preliminarily the city has determined that an explosion has occurred due to natural gas,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. 

And that’s all the mayor is confirming about the incident on the 400 block of Daly Street on Monday morning. Nutter would not comment on reports that a contractor’s smoking ignited the blast that levelled three homes.

“The fire department and the fire marshall’s office is still investigating the actual cause of the incident and, of course, we are not going to comment or speculate on that particular issue until the fire marshall completes his report,” Nutter said.

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Earlier on Tuesday at the site, City Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the district, told reporters that he understood the blast to have been triggered by a contractor installing a hot-water heater at 428 Daly St.

“He was in there trying to do something with the hot-water heater,” Squilla said. “He had supposedly went in the building, tried to do it, went out, came back in. Sometime during that process he lit a cigarette. When that happened, the house exploded.”

“Obviously there was a gas leak within the property,” Squilla said. “We don’t know if it was related to the hot-water heater or somewhere else when he tried to turn it on.”

However, Nutter says the contractor in the house was not a plumber.

“It is not clear at the moment, other than the fact that work was complete in all the permitted areas, including the installation of the hot water heater. That work was done,” said Nutter. “It is our best understanding that the person who was injured was doing other work in the house, possibly described as a tile person.”

No information yet from contractor

Deputy Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer says the contractor has not spoken with authorities because he is in the hospital and unable to speak.

“Right now the contractor is intubated,” Sawyer said, “and we have not been able to do a formal interview with the contractor.”

The contractor was seriously burned and is listed in critical condition at Temple University Hospital. Seven other people were injured in the incident, none seriously.

City officials did say that the property had passed 14 inspections and had all its permits up to date.

The Fire Marshall will have to come up with the cause of the explosion and there is no deadline as to when that information will be available.

Much work yet to do

428 Daly St. was an unoccupied home that was being remodeled. After the explosion, that building collapsed, along with the properties on either side at 426 and 430 Daly St.

The owner of 428 Daly, according to city records, is SCK Investments, L.L.C. President Cathy Finney-Hughes hasn’t responded to a request for comment. Executive Secretary Steve Finney told a reporter yesterday he had “no comment” and hung up.

CBS 3 reports that Dell Kean-Finney, husband of Steve Finney, confirmed the firm bought the Daly Street property in March of this year. “Truly, our prayers and our concerns are for anyone [who] in any way, to any degree, has gotten hurt,” Kean-Finney told CBS.

The city recently issued four permits for the house where the blast took place. They were for interior alterations, as well as electrical, plumbing and furnace work.

It may be several days before debris at the site of the explosion is cleared. Demolition Contractor Jim DiBartolo is one of those bidding on the contract to tear down the three homes.

“Right now they are going to clean debris in order for the investigators to get into the property so they can properly look [and] investigate,” DiBartolo said at the site this morning. “Once that procedure is completed, they will have the contractors come in who are awarded the bid.”

The whole process could take a week to 10 days.

Holly Otterbein, Elizabeth Fiedler and Kelly Lawler contributed to this story.

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