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33 houses in blast area to be razed; 6 at risk for collapse

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As many as 33 homes will have to be demolished in the Richmond Hill subdivision because of concerns about residents’ safety.

Those homes suffered major structural damage from the massive explosion that killed a Greenwood elementary school teacher and her husband and damaged 90 homes, Indianapolis code enforcement deputy director Adam Collins said. He said at least six of the homes are at immediate risk of collapse.

Investigators are sifting through the rubble at four of the houses near the source of the blast on Fieldfare Way in the southside subdivision.

Indianapolis Division of Homeland Security Chief Gary Coons said in a statement that the investigation is ongoing and they are still processing the scene. He said no arrests had been made in what’s been turned into a criminal homicide investigation.

The explosion killed Jennifer and Dion Longworth and caused an estimated $4.4 million in damage to the neighborhood off of Sherman Drive.

The Department of Code Enforcement has determined 33 homes in the neighborhood should be demolished, and the first demolitions should start Monday, Collins said. A Monday deadline was set because of the short workweek, and the need for contractors to get wrecking permits, he said.

Four homes remain cordoned off while investigators search for evidence of what caused the explosion that started a fire and broke windows and garage doors throughout the neighborhood.

Two homes were obliterated to the point where all that is left would be clearing away the debris, Collins said. Two more will have to come down for safety reasons once investigators release them, he said.

Homeowners and their insurance companies will hire contractors to raze the damaged homes. The Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development also could look into doing emergency demolitions, but that depends on what insurance companies do, spokesman John Bartholomew said.

Six houses on Fieldfare Way and Alcona Drive should be demolished on Monday, Collins said. They’re so badly damaged that they could collapse at any time, he said, and homeowners have had a chance to retrieve their possessions.

Another six homes would be torn down on Dec. 3. He said those houses also have severe structural damage, but the city wanted to give homeowners more time to temporarily brace the homes and get their things from inside.

Collins said code enforcement also is recommending that another 17 homes, including ones on Towhees Drive and Andrusia Lane, be torn down next month.

A hearing officer still needs to approve the demolition orders, Collins said. Code enforcement is giving those homeowners until Dec. 20 so they have the opportunity to bring engineers in to determine if those houses could be shored or braced.

City officials would review any plans to repair and save those homes but currently recommend demolition, Collins said. He added he believed most Richmond Hill homeowners would prefer to tear down and rebuild on their lots, so they would have more peace of mind that their houses were stable and safe.

The code enforcement department doesn’t want to put anyone at risk by letting them move back into a house that has serious structural damage, he said. Such a home could endanger both residents and neighbors if later it were to collapse.

No Richmond Hill homeowners turned in requests to object to demolition orders as of Wednesday afternoon, Collins said.

The explosion damaged another 57 homes in the neighborhood.

“Ninety were affected in some form, whether a blown-out window or a broken garage door or siding pulled off,” he said.

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