By Samuel Elliott Novacich, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Less than one week after four manholes exploded on Rua da Assembleia in downtown Rio de Janeiro, experts called to survey the area have confirmed the presence of gas leaks in an additional sixteen manholes within one square block. The manholes are used by the Light electrical and CEG natural gas companies. Representatives from Light and experts from Crea-RJ (Regional Advisor on Engineering, Architecture, and Agriculture) visited the region this Friday, July 8th to assess the situation. CEG declined to send representatives for the survey.
The explosions that closed Rua da Assembleia between Avenida Rio Branco and Rua da Carioca for four days occurred at approximately 4:20PM on Monday, July 4th, injuring bystanders Antônio Santino Leite, 44, and Hugo José Viana, 25. The men were taken to Souza Aguiar Municipal Hospital, where they were reported to be in stable condition and undergoing exams.
Three of the four manholes that exploded are located in the street, while a fourth is located on a pedestrian sidewalk.
Surveys made by the team on Friday morning confirmed a 100 percent explosive rating in several of the manholes inspected, meaning a guaranteed explosion with the presence of even a single spark.
“Light and CEG have to show improvements in their installations. This situation in Rio is becoming ridiculous,” said Luiz Cosenza, an engineer with Crea-RJ.
One of the manholes that exploded on Monday was measured for the presence of gas on Thursday evening, registering a 100 percent explosive rating. The manhole was left open over night to allow the gas to dissipate, and then rechecked, registering a 17 percent rating the following morning when surveyed by experts.
The manhole was then covered and left for an hour and a half, after which it was tested again. Upon reopening the manhole, a strong smell of gas was noted by the team, and upon testing it was found that the manhole again registered a 100 percent chance of explosion.
Though despite a continued explosive rating on Friday morning of 100 percent, and an apparently persistent gas leak, the street was re-opened to pedestrian and vehicle traffic later that afternoon at approximately 3:50PM.
“We don’t want to know if Light or CEG are to blame. We want a solution to the problem. So, we ordered a survey to be conducted this Friday. The results will substantiate a report to be sent to the State Justice Department,” said Cosenza.
The Justice Department has in fact already signed an agreement with Light in which the company agrees to renovate 4,000 underground chambers by 2013. The agreement also requires the company to pay R$100,000 in damages for any manhole explosion causing death, injury, or damage to public or private property.
Mike Smith, an American living and working in Rio de Janeiro, also expressed concern over the situation. “It’s scary to think just walking along the street you could get blown up. I remember in NY a few years ago some people got electrocuted from stepping on manholes… which is when I started avoiding them as much as possible.”
Exploding manholes are unfortunately familiar to Rio de Janeiro, where many similar incidents have been registered over the past decade. Almost exactly one year ago, American student Sara Nicole Lowry spent two months in the hospital with burns covering 80 percent of her body after a manhole exploded next to her in Copacabana.