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Damage estimates rise again: Blast's toll reaches $4.4M; additional investigators will aid hunt for clues

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Damage estimates have risen again as code enforcement officers continue to assess houses shook by a massive blast on the southside.

They’ve found that six more homes than originally thought in the devastated Richmond Hill neighborhood were damaged, and they raised the overall damage estimate by $800,000.

New estimates are that the huge explosion caused $4.4 million in damage to 86 homes in the neighborhood off Sherman Drive and Stop 11 Road. Five homes are gone, and another 10 suffered such major structural damage that they might need to be demolished.

“There’s ongoing assessments trying to get an accurate dollar loss,” Indianapolis Fire Department spokeswoman Rita Burris said. “They’ve been able to go and get a better look at some houses.”

A massive explosion that rattled windows miles away killed a Greenwood elementary school teacher and her husband, destroyed five homes and damaged dozens more. City officials have since determined that 93 of the homes are safe to return to, though the majority suffered at least a broken window, a bent-up garage door or other minor damage.

Burris said that the city is going to bring in additional investigators to help speed up the process. They’re also planning to bring in backhoes and other excavation equipment to move debris so they can search areas that were previously inaccessible.

Burris said that 30 police, fire and federal investigators have been working through the night to process the site and collect debris. Police have cordoned off 13 homes near the center of the blast on Fieldfare Way as they search for fragments of appliances, pipes or other clues that might point to what caused the deadly explosion.

Two additional homes were added to the investigation zone Friday. Investigators found debris on those properties that potentially could help tell them how the massive blast originated, Burris said.

The wreckage-strewn neighborhood remains dangerous for the swarms of investigators and workers. An investigator suffered a concussion after he was hit by falling debris. Paramedics checked out and treated the investigator at the scene.

An Indianapolis Department of Public Works worker suffered an injury to his foot after stepping on a nail. He was taken to an area hospital, treated and released, Burris said.

Both injuries were minor, she said.

City officials have evaluated plans for bracing badly damaged houses so that residents could enter and helped reconnect utilities to three more houses. Friday morning, a steady stream of contractors went to a command center at the golf course just outside the neighborhood to get credentials so they could fix the damage.

More than 50 construction credentials have been issued so far, as homeowners work with their insurance companies to rebuild after the devastation.

Indianapolis arranged for Richmond Hill residents to get assistance with replacing driver’s licenses or help interpreting their insurance policies.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs met with affected residents Friday at Southport Presbyterian Church. The city set up a resources center where the American Red Cross and other agencies offered services, such as providing help with pets and information about tetanus shots.

Most residents with minor damage have had utilities turned back on and insurance adjusters come out to see the damage, Burris said.

The seven residents who were taken to area hospitals after the blast all have been treated and released, she said. They mostly suffered minor, non-life-threatening injuries, Burris said.

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