A big yellow excavator tore into the remains of a home near the Richmond Hill blast site, scooped up parts of a wall and dumped the debris into the bed of a truck.
That sight will grow increasingly common during the next month, with about a fourth of the homes in the far southside neighborhood slated to be razed.
Demolition began Tuesday, a little more than two weeks after a major explosion killed Jennifer and Dion Longworth and damaged dozens
Various police and public safety agencies are conducting an investigation into what they believe was a criminal homicide case involving natural gas. About 30 investigators are sifting through the debris at four houses around the blast site, Indianapolis Fire Department spokeswoman Rita Burris said.
Four more houses will come down this week, and another six are set to be torn down next week. The city has issued orders to demolish a total of 33 homes, although an insurance company wants engineers to see if at least one of the houses can be fixed and salvaged, Indianapolis code enforcement spokesman Al Ensley said.
Ensley said the owners of the homes slated to be demolished have told city officials they would prefer that their homes be torn down. Otherwise they would take too much of a hit to their property values, he said.
Owners would have to disclose that the home was damaged in an explosion if they shored up the house and made repairs, Ensley said. Their property values would be negatively affected, so most would prefer to tear down and start over.
The decision about whether to repair or rebuild is up to the homeowners and their insurance companies, he said.
“It’s like a car accident when, at some point, the repairs add up to so much that they declare (the vehicle) totaled,” Ensley said. “The repairs cost more than the car is really worth. It’s like that, but on a much grander scale.”
Houses near the blast site on Fieldfare Way suffered such heavy structural damage that they can’t be repaired at all, Ensley said.
“There were houses that were blown off their foundations,” he said.
Ensley said he didn’t know when homeowners would be allowed to get building permits and start rebuilding on their lots.
The department of code enforcement has given homeowners until Dec. 20 to tear down 31 houses. Two of them, including the Longworth home, were reduced to rubble by the blast.
Four homeowners who lived near the blast site have gotten permits to tear down their homes, and they should be demolished this week, Ensley said. An insurance company filed a request to have an engineer assess a sixth home that was supposed to be razed to see if it could instead be salvaged, he said.
Code enforcement would have to review and approve any engineer’s plans to repair and salvage houses that have been ordered for demolition, Ensley said. The city could go in and demolish the houses itself if the property owners don’t, but that would be more expensive to homeowners and their insurance companies, he said.
That scenario is not expected to arise in the neighborhood off Sherman Drive, Ensley said. The city has talked to all the affected homeowners, and no one wanted to fight the demolition, he said.
If they later change their minds, Richmond Hill homeowners will have a chance to appeal to a hearing officer, who needs to review demolition orders for the final 17 homes with heavy structural damage. Those houses are expected to be razed by Dec. 20.
The city is giving residents time to tear down the damaged houses so they have the opportunity to retrieve possessions.
As demolition takes place, police continue to watch over the Richmond Hill neighborhood, Burris said. They no longer are restricting access and guarding the only entrance to the subdivision because all the uninhabitable houses have been boarded and locked up, she said.
But authorities still don’t want volunteers to come and help clean up or assist residents because the demolitions could put them at risk, Burris said.
“We’re not welcoming people to just traipse around while demolitions are going on,” she said. “People should stand down until after the demolitions are done.”