INDIANAPOLIS - A Greenwood teacher and her husband were killed and at least eight people were injured in an explosion and massive fire that tore through a neighborhood on Indianapolis' south side late Saturday.
The explosion happened about 11:10 p.m. in the 8400 block of Fieldfare Way in the Richmond Hill subdivision, near Sherman Drive between County Line Road and Stop 11 Road, displacing 200 people from their homes.
The blast was so powerful that it was heard from several miles away in much of Perry and Franklin Township. Some people reported hearing the blast in Hancock and Shelby counties.
The Indianapolis Fire Department confirmed the fatalities early Sunday morning. Wishard Memorial Hospital received four patients. Methodist Hospital said it had one patient from the blast and expected two more, and St. Francis Hospital said it had one patient in the aftermath of the explosion. Injuries to those eight patients were not believed to be life-threatening.
After crews checked every home in a 2 mile radius from the blast, IFD Chief Kenny Bacon said five homes were destroyed in the explosion and subsequent fire, and an additional 26 homes were so badly damaged that the Department of Code Enforcement said occupancy was prohibited. Some of the homes will have to be torn down, officials said. Another 50 homes sustained minor damage.
Initially, authorities speculated that the culprit may have been a natural gas explosion, but they later backed away from that, saying that an investigation will determine the cause.
Citizens Gas spokesman Dan Considine said that the utility did not get any calls about residents smelling gas before the explosion. However, the gas has now been shut off at 26 homes as a precaution, he said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was called in to help with the investigation.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard spent some time in the damaged area early Sunday morning and said two homes were leveled.
"A lot of houses have been damaged, some severely and some a little bit," Ballard said, adding that there was "major damage" to homes immediately surrounding those that were destroyed.
Windows and doors were blown out of homes a block or two away from the blast, Ballard said.
Dozens of firefighters were putting out hotspots into the early-morning hours and had gone from home to home to account for everyone who lives nearby.
Homes in the neighborhood surrounding the blast and fire were evacuated. Affected residents were taken to Mary Bryan Elementary School. About 150 people were there as of 1 a.m. Sunday.
Bacon said residents are allowed to return to the neighborhood to retrieve their belongings, but only light items that they can carry. Residents will also need to show ID before entering their home, officials said.
Marion County Sheriff John Layton heard the explosion from Southport Road and Madison Avenue.
"It was such an explosion that I knew it was a catastrophe," Layton said. "I was probably three miles away, and my police car shook."
"It's an incredible scene over there," said Kendale Adams, Indianapolis police public information officer.
Initial 911 calls came in with residents thinking the boom was the result of a plane crash, but that was quickly ruled out, Layton said.
Witness Kirk McDonald and two relatives who live nearby felt the blast and then jumped into action.
"It was a loud explosion. The whole house shook, things falling off the wall," McDonald said. "I could see insulation falling out of the sky. The house that blew up, there was nothing left of it but sticks."
McDonald said he could hear people screaming from inside a house nearby, including a man, woman and two children.
"I went inside to help the people out. As we got her out, the whole house was catching fire," McDonald said. "We had to dig off two-by-fours, siding."
Ballard praised first responders.
"People have really come together right now," Ballard said. "They got down there so fast and did such a great job."
Nurses and other medical workers flocked to the scene to help in any way they could.
Bill Jenkins, a pastor at the Church of Acts and also a police chaplain, heard the blast from his home a few blocks away and came to the scene.
"The firefighters, police department, all of the first responders are doing a terrific job," Jenkins said. "We're going person to person, trying to help them."
Families displaced by the explosion are welcomed at the Mary Bryan Elementary School at 4355 East Stop 11 Road.
Officials are asking Hoosiers who want to help to make monetary donations to the Red Cross by visiting www.redcross.org
Affected individuals and their families in need of help should contact the American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis at 317-684-1441.