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Initial findings point to gas leak as likely cause of Indianapolis blast

16 November 2012

The blast on November 10 in Indianapolis killed two, injured seven, caused a massive fire, blew out windows, collapsed ceilings and shook homes up to three miles away, forcing about 200 people out of their homes. Early signs are pointing to a natural gas explosion, but the investigation is far from complete, Marion County Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said.

The bodies of Jennifer Longworth, a teacher, and her husband John, a product developer for a consumer electronics company, were found in the basement of their home, which was destroyed.

Some residents who survived have been allowed to reoccupy their homes, and others will be escorted in to spend an hour to retrieve belongings in the coming days. Adam Collins, the city's deputy code enforcement director, said 29 houses remained uninhabitable.

State and local arson investigators, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, gas company representatives and insurance investigators have all been looking into potential causes.

Indianapolis Homeland Security Director Gary Coons issued a statement saying his "investigators believe natural gas is involved" and that they were "recovering the appliances from destroyed homes to help determine the cause."

The explosion showed some signs that are not typical of a natural gas explosion caused by an appliance, experts said.

But an attorney for the owner of a home at the core of the blast said his client's 12-year-old daughter had smelled a strange smell off and on for weeks. Randall Cable, an attorney for homeowner Monserrate Shirley, said that the woman's daughter had complained of an odour outdoors and in the garage area for several weeks before the blast. "Once they went inside, they didn't smell it," Cable said. The odour wasn't strong enough to concern the adults, so they didn't report it, he said.

The house, which also reputedly had a faulty furnace, was not occupied at the time of the explosion and was next door to the one in which the two fatalities were found.

Troy Riggs said investigators will treat the area as a crime scene until they rule out foul play. Local and federal investigators say it's too soon to rule on a cause but are slowly weeding out some possibilities.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to check the integrity of a gas main and other lines serving the neighborhood, and local gas supplier Citizens Energy said it also was checking gas lines.

Gas explosions have levelled neighbourhoods before, including a 2011 explosion that killed five in Allentown, Pa., and a blast in 2010 in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Both of those cases were tied to gas pipelines. A gas leak in a Colorado home last month sparked an explosion that sent five people to a hospital and damaged several nearby homes.

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