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Explosion On Bridge In North Philadelphia Caused By Thermic Event

By Elizabeth Hur

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Authorities were called into action after an explosion on a bridge over the Amtrak train tracks early Friday evening in the Brewerytown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

This happened near the 3100 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

According to officials, four people in all, two pedestrians and two others in a car, were crossing the bridge at the time of the explosion.

The driver of the car told Eyewitness News, all of a sudden the ground before him started shaking and the next thing he saw was a large rock flying over his car.

"This was a significant explosion. There were large chunks of concrete thrown from one side of the street to the other and for a very long distance in an Easterly direction on the bridge. So that gave every indication that someone had actually detonated a device," Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan with the Philadelphia Police Department said.

Police say it was shortly before 5 p.m. that crews responded and found a crater on the bridge that's about two feet wide and almost two feet deep.

"I mean we see a bridge that's associated with mass transit lines and Amtrak that always has to be a thought and that's why we just have to move and do our due diligence," Sullivan said.

Following protocol in handling explosions, Philadelphia's Bomb Disposal Unit joined Amtrak officials and investigators from the FBI to zero in on a cause.

"We take a report like this very seriously, deploy the appropriate personnel as soon a possible and I wanted to see what was going on as well," Mayor Michael Nutter explained.

Investigators spent hours inspecting the bridge and the tracks below and brought in bomb sniffing dogs to figure out if any explosives were used in this incident. According to officials, in the end, the dogs did not detect any explosives at the site, leading investigators to believe, preliminarily, that what happened was not criminal but more likely weather-related.

"There was a thermic event and what I mean by that is icicles formed as a result of the moisture that we've had. The icicles came in contact with high-powered lines from the Amtrak that were running under the bridge and that caused an explosion," Sullivan went onto explain, "There was a pressure wave that came up through the bridge. It created a debris field, all the indications of an explosive device having detonated until we found that there was zero indication of a presence of explosives."

Eyewitness News was told, based on those findings, an Amtrak electrical engineer then surveyed the bridge and was able to make the preliminary determination that a thermic event is the most likely explanation to what occurred.

Amtrak engineers told Sullivan, "An explosion of this magnitude is very unusual but an event of this nature is not."

The four individuals present at the time of the explosion did go to area hospitals to be checked out, as a precaution, but are said to be just fine.

Officials say they will conduct a complete assessment of the structural integrity of the bridge before it is reopened to traffic.

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