This aerial photo shows the two homes that were leveled and the numerous neighboring homes that were damaged from a massive explosion that sparked a huge fire and killed two people Sunday in Indianapolis. (Photo: Matt Kryger, Indianapolis Star)
By Vic Ryckaert and Barb Berggoetz and Jill Disis, USA Today
INDIANAPOLIS -- Authorities from various Indianapolis, Indiana and federal agencies scoured the rubble Sunday searching for clues to just what caused a massive and deadly explosion late Saturday night on the Far-Southside of the city.
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 above were confronted with horrifying images of destruction.
The toll: Five homes 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 crumbled garage doors a block away.
Three houses on the street essentially were reduced to charred foundations.
Tony Burnett, 49, was laying in bed watching the Notre Dame football game a little after 11 p.m. Saturday 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 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.
His neighbors, Jennifer L. and John D. Longworth, were believed to have died. Two bodies were removed from the Longworth home, but police and fire officials refused to confirm that they were the presumed victims.
Nontheless, 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."
Greenwood Schools Superintendent David Edds called Jennifer "a wonderful teacher."
The Marion County, Ind., coroner's office will review dental records and consult with an expert before officially identifying the victims, said Chief Deputy Coroner Alfie Ballew.
Ballew declined to confirm the names, but she said the coroner's office has met with the family of the presumed victims.
Jennifer's father, Donald E. Buxton, declined an interview Sunday.
Another couple was rescued from the rubble of a home Saturday, said a co-worker.
Glenn and Gloria Olvey survived but were "battered, bruised and sore," said David Frazier.
"They were both trapped in the house and had to be evacuated," Frazier said.
Attempts to contact the Olveys were not successful.
According to records and Burnett, who lives across the street, Monserrate R. Shirley lives at the other destroyed home. 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.
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.
Police, Indianapolis Fire Department 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 lines.
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. 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.
Nearly five years later, on April 6, 1968, a gas explosion wiped out much of downtown Richmond, Ind., killing 41 and injuring scores more.
Last month, a vacant home in in Indianapolis was leveled by a ruptured gas line that caused an explosion.
Contributing: Ryan Sabalow, Robert King and Tim Evans, The Indianapolis Star