MYSTERY BLAST DEVASTATES NEIGHBORHOOD, KILLS 2|
Posted On: November 12th, 2012
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Authorities from local, state and federal agencies scoured the rubble Sunday for clues to what caused a massive and deadly explosion late the night before on the Southeastside.
But if answers were elusive -- no official cause has been determined -- the devastation was evident.
Neighbors, volunteers, investigators and others who traipsed through the area or viewed it from nearby were confronted with horrifying images of destruction.
The toll: Five homes destroyed or nearly destroyed; an additional 26 homes significantly damaged; 200 people forced from their homes; seven people injured; two people -- presumed to be a second-grade teacher and her husband -- dead.
Fieldfare Way, a street in the heart of the Richmond Hill neighborhood, was the center of the blast that shattered windows and crumpled garage doors a block away.
Three houses on the street -- 8343, 8349 and 8355 Fieldfare Way -- essentially were reduced to charred foundations.
Tony Burnett, 49, was lying in bed watching the Notre Dame football game a little after 11 p.m. when the explosion shook his home, knocked down doors and blew out windows.
He said he ran outside and saw that the house across the street, 8349 Fieldfare, was gone. Houses on either side were in flames.
Debris fell like snow.
"When I got outside it was still snowing, with all the pieces of insulation and vinyl siding coming down," Burnett said.
Burnett, his wife and their two dogs escaped without serious injury.
An IMPD report on the blast Monday morning confirmed the deaths of Jennifer L. Longworth, 36, and her husband, John D. Longworth, 34, and said their remains were found in the basement of their home at 8355 Fieldfare. A report from the Marion County coroner is needed to officially establish their identities.
Nonetheless, about 100 educators, students and parents gathered Sunday night for a candlelight vigil at Southwest Elementary School, where Jennifer was a second-grade teacher.
"You can tell teaching wasn't just a job for her," said Jessi Hersinger, whose son Levi was in Longworth's class last year. "She put her heart into it."
Levi wanted to know why his teacher was gone.
Hersinger said she told him she didn't really know, "But bad things like this just happen sometimes, and she's in God's hands now."
Greenwood Schools Superintendent David Edds called Jennifer "a wonderful teacher."
The district's schools are on a two-hour delay this morning, Edds said, to help the district react in case the confirmation should come.
"If it was her, our heart goes out to the family," Edds said. "She'll truly be missed."
Counselors will be available at Southwest today, Edds said.
The Marion County coroner's office will review dental records and consult with an expert before officially identifying the victims, Chief Deputy Coroner Alfie Ballew said.
Ballew declined to confirm the names, but she said the coroner's office has met with the family of the victims.
Jennifer's father, Donald E. Buxton, declined an interview Sunday.
Another couple was rescued from the rubble. They were at 8343 Fieldfare Way on Saturday, according to a co-worker.
Glenn and Gloria Olvey survived but were "battered, bruised and sore," David Frazier said.
"They were both trapped in the house and had to be evacuated," Frazier said.
Frazier works with Gloria at LandTree Realtors in Greenwood. He said he had spoken to Gloria on Sunday.
Frazier did not say where the Olveys were recuperating. Attempts to contact the Olveys were unsuccessful.
Monserrate R. Shirley lives at the other destroyed home, 8349 Fieldfare Way, according to records and Burnett, who lives across the street. Shirley was contacted by telephone Sunday but also declined an interview.
While three homes were leveled, two others were heavily damaged and must be bulldozed, city code inspectors said. About 26 more homes need extensive repairs before residents can return.
Police evacuated about 200 people from homes in the neighborhood late Saturday, some of whom spent the night at Mary Bryan Elementary School.
By Sunday morning, firefighters began allowing people back into about 50 of the least-damaged homes. They could stay, but the homes were without power for part of the day.
Firefighters escorted others into more heavily damaged homes to retrieve medicine, pets or identification. But they had to seek shelter elsewhere.
The most heavily damaged houses, marked by a red tag, remained off limits.
Relief operations moved from the school to Southport Presbyterian Church by midday.
The smell of grilled hamburgers and chicken filled the air around the church Sunday as volunteers fed displaced families and others.
Police, arson investigators, federal agents and Citizens Energy crews remained in the neighborhood late Sunday.
The cause of the explosion remained a mystery, but attention focused on natural gas. Dan Considine, spokesman for Citizens Energy, said the company's crews shut down the gas main along Fieldfare Way after the blast and on Sunday morning found no leaks.
If the blast was a gas explosion, it would add to a long and deadly string of such accidents in Indiana. In fact, the deadliest disaster in Indianapolis history was the Oct. 31, 1963, gas explosion that ripped through the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, killing 74 people and injuring about 400 others.
More than 4,000 spectators were attending an opening night performance of the Holiday on Ice show when a leaky propane assembly used to keep pre-popped popcorn warm exploded.
Nearly five years later, on April 6, 1968, a gas explosion wiped out much of downtown Richmond, killing 41 and injuring scores more. The blast caused an estimated $15 million in losses in 1968 dollars, with 15 buildings destroyed and 125 damaged.
Last month, a vacant home in the 1000 block of South Warman Avenue was leveled by a ruptured gas line that caused an explosion.
Star reporters Ryan Sabalow, Robert King and Tim Evans contributed to this story.