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Explosion: Anxious residents hope to return soon

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Citizens Energy Group employees search the site of an explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision Monday in Indianapolis.
Citizens Energy Group employees search the site of an explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision Monday in Indianapolis. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON

Gas lines under a block of homes were tested Monday, but no leaks were detected as multiple state and federal agencies investigate the possibility that natural gas caused Saturday’s explosion that killed two people and damaged dozens of homes on the southside.

Next, utility workers will test individual connections to the homes at the center of the explosion on Fieldfare Way to look for any problems with natural gas usage or leaks, Citizens Energy Group spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said.

As the investigation into what caused the destruction continues, the utility plans to examine the most recent gas usage at the individual homes, Holsapple said. At this point, the company can’t say whether either of the homes that exploded had an over-consumption of gas. A meter reader checked the readings of homes on Fieldfare Way two weeks ago and found no unusually high use of natural gas.

Residents are waiting for answers.


Residents who want to help are being asked to stop bringing donations and supplies directly into the Richmond Hill neighborhood.

Instead, take supplies to the Southport Presbyterian Church or make a monetary donation to the Red Cross at redcross.org.

Emergency officials allowed Richmond Hill residents displaced by the massive explosion to return home for an hour to gather possessions, and city officials met individually with them to talk about the status of their homes and when or if they could return. Residents were able to get insurance adjustors and contractors to look at the damage and begin the recovery process, Indianapolis code enforcement deputy director Adam Collins said.

An estimated 29 homes in the neighborhood near Stop 11 Road and Sherman Drive are not safe to live in after the explosion, Collins said. In all, about 80 homes were damaged.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said investigators had ruled out a bomb, meth lab and plane crash. But officials are still investigating the cause of the blast and released few details.

Citizens Energy Group has not found or gotten any reports of gas leaks in the neighborhood but was still inspecting the homes that exploded, Ballard said. He said the investigation was focusing on what happened at the leveled homes on Fieldfare Way.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said Sunday that investigations likely were looking at a problem with natural gas but were considering all possibilities and not ruling anything out.

Local and federal agencies are assisting with the investigation, Indianapolis Division of Homeland Security director Gary Coons said.

“It is still an investigation, so we’re very limited on the information we can give out,” he said.

Coons declined to say what home the explosion originated in, if the residents were home at the time or what the possible causes were. He further declined to comment if investigators had interviewed anyone, such as the owners of a leveled house, if they suspected anything other than an accident and if a faulty furnace was to blame.

John Shirley, 50, of Noblesville, whose ex-wife is listed as an owner of one of the homes that exploded in property records, wondered if a faulty furnace could be the cause of the explosion. He said his daughter sent him a text message last week complaining that the furnace in the home had gone out and required them to stay at a hotel but later said it had been fixed, and he didn’t know of any other problems.

The other home was owned by the Longworth family. Jennifer, 36, was a teacher at a Greenwood elementary school. Her husband John “Dion” was 34. Both were killed and their bodies were found in the basement of their home, an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department report said.

The National Transportation Safety Board was overseeing testing by Citizens Energy Group to see if the gas line running along Fieldfare Way or any of the lines running to four of the houses at the center of the southside blast had any leaks.

Utilities were restored to the roughly 50 homes that sustained minimal damage in the explosion but have been kept off in the roughly 30 homes that were severely damaged or destroyed, Holsapple said.

None of the residents requested any repairs or reported any problems recently, Holsapple said. Citizens Energy last sent a repairman to Richmond Hill in 2009, and the repairs made weren’t on Fieldfare Way, she said.

“We’re just going to take the investigation step by step, and we’ll keep everyone informed as the results come back,” Holsapple said.

Residents who had returned to the neighborhood to damaged but livable homes said they felt unnerved that the cause of explosion was still unknown.

Others who have not been able to return home met with city officials Monday to discuss the status of their houses. Some were escorted by firefighters and code enforcement workers to their damaged homes to retrieve pets, financial papers or other documents. Others were told it wasn’t safe for them to go inside, even for a few minutes.

Ballard said that residents were frustrated but upbeat, given the circumstances, when they met with city officials.

The homes suffered about $3.6 million in damage. The affected residents will meet with city inspectors to determine the next steps.

Richmond Hill resident Brian Hollingsworth said he didn’t expect that he and his wife would be able to go back home because their house suffered major structural damage.

Indianapolis Fire Department spokeswoman Rita Burris said that residents likely would not be allowed to go into a few of the most severely damaged houses because of safety concerns. She said city officials sympathized with them but didn’t want to risk them getting hurt.

Residents have returned to homes with minor damage, and most utilities have been restored, Collins said. Code enforcement officials checked the connections before power and gas were turned back, and the city wanted to ensure the homes were heated as soon as possible.

Code enforcement officials are continuing to inspect the most badly damaged houses along Fieldfare Way and haven’t been able to get into six homes because they’re unsafe for anyone to enter, Collins said.

Residents will have to work with their insurance companies and contractors to determine if the homes can be repaired and salvaged, or if they’ll have to be torn down, Collins said.

Insurance companies will ultimately decide in most cases, Collins said. Residents who need to shore up or brace badly damaged homes will have to give the city a letter from an engineer that includes a plan for making the house safe to live in again, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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