South Philadelphia Fire

Body Pulled From Rubble of South Philly Fire as Search Continues for 2nd Person

Officials said firefighters could see the legs of at least one person in the rubble on Thursday

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The body of a person missing since a deadly fire erupted from a South Philadelphia row home Thursday was pulled from the rubble on Friday afternoon, the city fire commissioner said.

The victim has not been identified. Another person missing since the fire is believed to still be trapped inside the debris, and is presumed dead, authorities have said.

Officials earlier Friday revealed that an “undermined” street prevented them from digging out the bodies after the explosion and fire rocked multiple homes in South Philadelphia the day prior.

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner and Emergency Management director Adam Thiel said crews were unable for much of the day to employ heavy machinery that is required dig through the debris. The rubble was left behind by three collapsed row homes felled by the flames that raged on S. 8th Street.

The disaster occurred three blocks from the iconic Pat's and Geno's steak shops about 11 a.m. Thursday morning.

At least two people are still missing and presumed dead following an explosion and row home fire, in South Philadelphia. The explosion happened before noon Thursday, and the fire commissioner revealed firefighters just barely escaped, as three homes collapsed. NBC10’s Matt DeLucia has been with investigators all day learning the newest details.

“The street has been undermined,” Thiel said, possibly because of the "hundreds of thousands" of gallons of water used to extinguish the flames. On Thursday, he said a sinkhole had begun to appear in the area.

“There’s a lot of set-up work that needs to be done before we can actually start using the heavy equipment to start de-layering those collapsed buildings and going through that debris," Thiel said Friday.

The fear of further collapses has also stymied the recovery process, the commissioner said, especially because two other homes were severely structurally damaged in the blaze. Those homes may have to be knocked down to allow crews to work, he said.

Thiel said it was possible there might be other people in the rubble, which stretched into the street, but added that officials had not received reports of anyone else missing in the hours following the fire.

He said firefighters could see the legs of at least one person in the rubble on Thursday, but were not able to reach that person as the flames raged and the home collapsed around them.

Steve Sosna/NBC10
Smoke could be seen for miles as it streamed east in the strong winds, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.

“When the fire expanded and the building started to further collapse, that secondary collapse pushed that person away from them,” Thiel said. Firefighters made another attempt at a rescue, but were still unsuccessful.

A second body is believed to be in one of the adjacent homes, but rescuers were only able to search a portion of that building because of the structural damage, Thiel said.

The explosion happened before noon Thursday. Firefighters raced to save nearby homes as flames tore through the structures.

The destruction was immediate and created smoke plumes that were visible from miles away. Thiel said the fire was "gas-fed."

Fire officials told NBC10 that they had received numerous calls reporting an explosion prior to the blaze, but an exact cause of the fire remains unknown.

Some 60 people were displaced from their homes following the blaze. Those people were asked to call 1-800-RED-CROSS for assistance.

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