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Outdoor gas leak ruled out; services set for victims


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Contractors Chris Smoke, left, and Tyler Wallace speak with code enforcement representative Todd Suchy on Wednesday at the Richmond Hill command post at the Smock Golf Course in Indianapolis. 
PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON
Contractors Chris Smoke, left, and Tyler Wallace speak with code enforcement representative Todd Suchy on Wednesday at the Richmond Hill command post at the Smock Golf Course in Indianapolis. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON


Investigators believe natural gas caused the deadly explosion on the far southside and are now looking into whether the volatile gas had been released inside a house.

A gas leak outside the Richmond Hill homes that exploded late Saturday night has been ruled out after investigators checked lines and valves leading up to the blast site. Investigators are now trying to determine if an appliance, leak or valve inside a home was to blame for the blast that killed a Greenwood teacher and her husband and damaged dozens of homes, fire department spokeswoman Rita Burris said.

“At this time, it is not clear where exactly the source of the natural gas came from or what sparked the gas and caused it to explode,” Burris said in a statement. “(Test findings) simply offer investigators an opportunity to narrow their search by one layer.”

Investigators are focusing on the inside of the homes, Burris said. They don’t know whether a faulty appliance, valve or leak released the gas.

They’re investigating appliances and piping as they try to learn what ignited the blast that could be felt miles away and caused an estimated $3.6 million in damage to a subdivision just north of Smock Golf Course.

“No underground leaks or pressure issues found in the mains concludes the portion of the investigation as it relates to the potential large-scale issue of the natural gas originating outside the home,” Burris said in the statement. “Based on this information, the IFD/IMPD Fire Investigations Unit along with the support of the ATF can now focus their attention on a natural gas pathway that potentially originated inside the home.”

No leaks were found in pipes under the neighborhood, along the Fieldfare Way blast site, or in connecting lines between the main line and the meters of individual homes.

Citizens Energy Group found no evidence of a leak in any underground lines after concluding testing Tuesday, spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said.

The company, along with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the National Transportation Safety Board, tested pipes throughout the entire Richmond Hill subdivision, the 2-inch diameter gas main on Fieldfare Way and all underground service lines to homes on that street.

The utility also did a functional test of the gas meter at the explosion site.

No leaks were discovered in any of Citizens Energy’s underground utilities, but that doesn’t mean there was no leak, Indianapolis Homeland Security Chief Gary Coons said. Investigators believe natural gas was involved in the explosion and are in the process of recovering the appliances from destroyed homes to determine the cause, Coons said in a statement.

Those test findings allow investigators to focus on the inside of the homes, where the source of the natural gas likely came from, Burris said.

“With all investigations, investigators always start with the widest point possible and work their way through each step, eliminating as they go,” Burris said in a statement. “Each layer must be thoroughly investigated before it can be eliminated and therefore eliminated as a potential point of origin.”

City officials told affected Richmond Hill residents at a Tuesday meeting that an investigation is ongoing and investigators would work tirelessly to provide thorough and accurate information, Burris said in the statement.

She said that when a leak occurs inside a home, it’s up to homeowners to make sure a licensed contractor makes the repair.

AT A GLANCE

Here’s a look at the tally of damage that a massive explosion did in a southside neighborhood:

Damage

$3.6 million

   Estimated cost of damage

126

Houses inspected

80

Houses that suffered damage

29

Houses that were deemed

uninhabitable for safety reasons

10

Houses that were reduced to rubble or will have to be demolished

Command center

Indianapolis has established a command center outside the Richmond Hill neighborhood as focus shifts toward long-term recovery. Officials expect the response will take several weeks and wanted a place to coordinate the investigation, relief efforts and restrict access to residents, insurance adjusters and contractors.

Long-term relief

City officials are looking at offering services such as counseling to affected residents. Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said: “The effects of this disaster will continue long after homes are repaired and hearts are healed. It is vitally important that we provide what resources we can to assist during this difficult transition, help start the healing process and allow the families to regain some semblance of normalcy to their lives.”

Pets

Residents who attended meetings expressed a lot of concern about where their pets were but often were relieved to learn that other residents had sheltered them and kept them safe. Animal Control also is boarding some pets for free.

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