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Homeowners near site of blast worry about structural damage


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The living room wall of Shirley Quathamer’s two-story home has cracks running along a window and ceiling that didn’t exist before this past weekend.

Saturday night’s deadly explosion in Richmond Hill shook the homes of Quathamer and her neighbors in Sherman Commons, a subdivision less than a mile away. The shock wave, which might have been detected by Indiana University’s earthquake sensors, knocked pictures off of walls and mantels, and Quathamer thinks it’s also the reason an 18-inch crack now runs vertically along her living room window and why she has cracks forming along the ceiling.

Now Quathamer must decide whether to file an insurance claim. She doesn’t like the thought of paying the cost of the deductible, but she also worries that small cracks in her home can turn into big ones.

“Once something like that starts, you never know,” she said.

While more than two dozen homes near the Richmond Hill explosion have been declared uninhabitable, it’s unlikely homes a quarter-mile or more outside of the center of the explosion would have had structural damage to their foundations because of the shock wave, Johnson County chief building official Wes Harris said.

Still, if residents have concerns about anything from their foundations to their roofs, they should call a state-licensed home inspector or a foundation company, Harris said.

And the sooner residents whose homes were damaged from the explosion file insurance claims the better, Farm Bureau Insurance director of claims Karen Tiede and Green Owens Insurance co-owner Jim Wise said. They haven’t received any claims from their clients from the explosion.

“Now is the time to look,” Tiede said.

Damage from explosions is typically covered under most homeowner’s insurance policies, but both Tiede and Wise said policies can vary, and homeowners need to know what their specific policy covers. Indiana law gives homeowners a two-year window to file claims, Indiana Department of Insurance spokesman Logan Harrison said.

Tiede and Wise can’t think of a comparable event local homeowners have faced. The closest comparison Tiede could make was a residential explosion in Fishers that happened more than 10 years ago.

Residents miles away reported hearing and feeling the explosion. An Indiana University professor is trying to confirm whether the blast was picked up by the university’s earthquake-monitoring equipment.

Two of IU’s earthquake sensors, one about 15 miles from the blast in Martinsville and another 35 miles from the blast in Milroy, might have picked up the shock wave. Martinsville’s sensor would have picked up ground vibrations, while Milroy’s would have detected the air waves, said Michael Hamburger, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences.

Hamburger is still waiting to confirm the exact time of the blast, which will help him clarify whether what the sensors picked up was the explosion.

“If the timing can be confirmed, I’d say I’m quite confident that this is what we picked up,” Hamburger said.

Wise said pictures falling off walls aren’t a good way of telling whether a house was damaged, and cracks or nails poking through ceilings aren’t necessarily a problem, either, Harris said.

But if homeowners find cracks that didn’t exist before the blast they need to watch and see if they get wider. If the width hits the quarter-inch mark that could mean a problem with the foundation, Harris said. Doors and windows that suddenly don’t shut as well as they used to could also show a problem with the foundation, Wise said.

Ellen Rowlett and her husband started looking around their Sherman Commons home Sunday to see if they could find any damage from the blast. The couple plan to give their foundation another look and are considering hiring a professional but haven’t decided yet.

If an inspector finds a problem with the foundation they can turn that into their insurance company, but otherwise the inspection will cost the couple money, Rowlett said.

While Harris said the odds of Sherman Commons residents having foundation problems are small, he and Wise said anyone with worries about their foundations should have a professional take a look.

“The everyday layman wouldn’t know what to look for,” Wise said.

Residents might be more anxious to have their homes inspected if they see or hear about damage to their neighbors’ property. But people need to remember that damage to one person’s house doesn’t automatically mean damage to everyone’s house, Wise said.

He equated it to a hail storm that passes over a neighborhood — the same storm that destroys one roof could leave another roof without any damage.

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