36 homes critically damaged in explosion in south side neighborhood

2 people killed, 8 injured

INDIANAPOLIS - Thirty-six homes sustained critical damage in an explosion that killed two people on Indianapolis' south side, inspectors said.

The explosion happened Saturday night at a home at 8349 Fieldfare Way in the Richmond Hill subdivision near Sherman Drive between County Line and Stop 11 roads.

The blast leveled the home where it originated and seriously damaged two homes on either side, all four of which have been ordered to be demolished.

Inspectors have deemed 12 nearby homes unfit for occupancy and unsafe for the homeowners to collect personal belongings until they are stabilized.

Nineteen other homes are also unfit for occupancy, but homeowners will be escorted back inside to collect what they can, officials said Monday.

"They're going to be given one hour to retrieve their belongings, and from there they'll have to leave the premises until Code Enforcement can make a better determination of what to do with the property," said Capt. Rita Burris, with the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Code Enforcement inspectors have color coded the blast area, determining which homes sustained the most damage, which homes should be demolished and which homes should be saved. The city gave Gary Jarnigan the worst case scenario.

"(I'll be) finding some place to live for the next year or however long it takes to totally rebuild my house," Jarnigan said. "So, (I'm) living out of a bag right now."

Robert Stevenson and his wife have moved into a nearby hotel. They're one of the lucky ones who will get to return home.

"A couple of things fell off the walls. We're blessed that we didn't sustain any more damage, and we pray for those other homeowners who have sustained more," Stevenson said.
 
Tony Burnett's house is across the street from the ones that were destroyed.
 
"It's been a nightmare," he said. "My wife was talking last night... we can't sleep for more than an hour."
 
Burnett said he visited his home Monday, and he was surprised by what he saw.
 
"It was far worse than I expected," Burnett said. "Even down in the areas where they're going to allow folks to occupy, there's still vinyl siding hanging out of trees. There's houses with so much insulation in their yard it looks like it snowed."
 
For those fortunate enough to go back home, the scars in the neighborhood will linger for some time as a reminder of those less fortunate.
 
"I've lived there for nine years," said Theresa Carmichael. "It's driving in my neighborhood and knowing it's not the same anymore... I just want to be close to my neighbors and I want to help as many of my neighbors as I can."
 
"It's going to be rough knowing that so many people are displaced from their homes," said Kirk McDonald. "It's going to be scary for a while. I don't know how long the police are going to be out there. You don't want to think there's going to be people looting, but it happens."
 
"The police are doing the best they could to secure this neighborhood and we ask that people not come in and mess with our stuff," said Burnett. "We're at everybody's mercy at this point." 
 
Shawn Sullivan's house sustained lots of interior damage, but the city classified his home as livable.
 
"We were a block from the tragedy," Sullivan said. "It's been minor for us. We have kids, so we're trying to get back to normal as much as possible."

Meanwhile, Citizens Gas officials said crews were back in the neighborhood running tests Monday. No leaks were found in the main line, and testing individual homes' gas lines could take some time, officials said.

A representative said a meter reader had last been at the home that exploded on Oct. 26. Consumption was normal at that time, she said.

John Shirley, whose ex-wife and daughter live in the home, told RTV6 on Monday that he believes a faulty furnace may have sparked the explosion after his daughter told him the family was staying at a hotel because the heat was out.

Authorities have not said what they believe caused the explosion, but Mayor Greg Ballard said investigators have ruled out a bomb, a methamphetamine lab and an airplane crash.

"It's a methodical investigation. You have to go step by step, and you have to know what you're looking for," said Indianapolis Department of Homeland Security Chief Gary Coons.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Transportation Safety Board, which oversees gas lines, were called in to help with the investigation.

A Greenwood elementary teacher and her husband who lived next door to the house that exploded were killed and eight people were injured in the blast and ensuing fire, which displaced at least 200 people.

Watch RTV6 and refresh this page for updates.
 

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