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Tragedy leaves family rattled, hits too close to home

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Ordinarily, I would not tackle a small home repair at 11 p.m. But with Saturday’s unseasonably warm temperatures, it was a good day to tidy up yard work. Inside maintenance could wait.

Upon finishing outdoor chores, which ate up most of the day, my wife and daughter and I went to the Pacers’ game. Had a nice but exhausting time. By the time we got out, our little one was spent.

By 10:15 p.m., well past her normal bedtime, she was sound asleep. My wife was tidying up downstairs in preparation for out-of-town family who were coming to stay with us on Sunday.

Seemed like an ideal time to make a minor plumbing fix upstairs that I had put off for several weeks.

Around 11 p.m., I grabbed a pair of channel locks and solved the problem. Only took a few minutes.

Delighted, I was about to set the tool down when, without warning, our entire house shook violently, in concert with a thundering boom, simultaneous terrifying sensations I had never felt before.

So violent was the percussion, I nearly fell. The upstairs floor literally shook beneath my feet, as if the house had been lifted from the foundation, shaken from side to side, then slammed back earth.

My immediate thoughts were: Are my wife and daughter safe, and which part of our house just collapsed? How big was the object that slammed into it? What was it? How many other houses did it hit?

“What was that?” my wife and I exclaimed at the same time, as we both made beelines to our daughter’s bedroom. To our relief, she was fine, still sound asleep. I then ran downstairs to see which part of the house was no longer standing. To my amazement, everything was intact.

But what was it? What had just caused our house to shake as if a bomb — a literal bomb — had exploded in our backyard?

What was it?

I was almost afraid to find out.

Hurriedly slipping into shoes and throwing on a jacket, I rushed outside to see what had blown up. Scores of neighbors were trying to determine the same thing. This was within a minute of the event.

Earthquake? Bomb? Plane crash?

Given our location, the latter seemed the most likely cause.

Our subdivision is near the intersection of Emerson Avenue and Stop 11 Road, about a quarter mile east of Mary Bryan Elementary School, on the far southside. Our house is on the flight path to and from the Greenwood Municipal Airport, roughly three miles due south.

Rumor quickly spread among neighbors that a plane had indeed gone down trying to land at the airport. What else would cause all our homes to feel as though they were knocked from their foundations?

Within moments, sirens screamed down Stop 11, in both directions (it runs east and west). Local police, state police, firetrucks, ambulances, a non-stop parade of first-responders with flashing red and blue lights eerily illuminating a dark, starless night.

Helicopters began to hover somewhere in the direction of Mary Bryan.

Almost instantly, police shut down Stop 11 at Emerson. The road in and out of our subdivision also was sealed. Hundreds of residents lined Stop 11, trying to determine what was going on. Some in the crowd said they heard on a police scanner that a small plane had crashed into a home near Mary Bryan. My thought was, it had to be something larger than a small plane, maybe a jetliner, to create such a violent explosion.

Then, in the short distance just southwest of Mary Bryan from where scores of us stood, a billowing mushroom cloud of white smoke wafted over the area. It grew and grew and grew. More emergency vehicles sped in. More terrified residents from adjoining subdivisions poured onto the sidewalks. More local streets were closed.

And and on and on it went, for at least the next three hours.

Within a half hour of the blast, it was clear a plane had not crashed. An explosion, it was being reported, had blown up at least one home — and possibly more — somewhere behind Mary Bryan. In light of the colossal, enduring smoke plume, it seemed highly improbable that only one or two homes were impacted. It also seemed highly unlikely that there were no fatalities.

Turns out many more homes were involved. And two people did die.

My thoughts then turned back to my wife and daughter. If this was a natural gas explosion, what caused it? How safe was our home? It was a realistic fear shared by many who witnessed the surreal scene in real time, whose homes had just shaken as if picked up by a giant and slammed carelessly back to the ground.

So after 45 minutes or so, I made my way home where my wife and I seriously discussed waking our daughter and spending the night elsewhere, many, many miles away from this still very chaotic, very confusing, very disturbing scene.

But after not receiving an evacuation notice by authorities, or any hint of looming danger, and learning that the electricity and gas had been turned off in the impacted neighborhood, we made a reluctant decision to stay put.

Fortunately, our daughter slept through the entire thing. My wife went to bed around 2 a.m., and I followed just after 3 a.m. Suffice it to say, only one of three people in our house got any sleep that night. My wife and I were not that person.

Yet we are the lucky ones.

Our hearts and thoughts go out to all of our fellow southsiders who lost lives, were injured, lost homes or peace of mind, or whose lives will never be the same.

All the loss was within a mile of our house.

This hit way too close to home.

Rick Morwick is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rmorwick@dailyjournal.net.

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