‘Tedious’ investigation after Indiana house explosion kills 3

Midwest

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (NewsNation) — Three people were killed Wednesday when a house exploded in the southern Indiana city of Evansville, damaging 39 buildings and rendering 11 uninhabitable, authorities said.

“There are no more victims to be found,” Evansville Fire Department Chief Mike Connelly said in a press briefing Thursday. “It’s a huge relief for everybody.”

Connelly said two of the people who died were in the initial explosion, one was “a next-door neighbor.”

Authorities concluded their search for more victims on Thursday morning, an operation Connelly called “tedious,” involving a special structural collapse team to shore up damaged buildings so investigators had safe access.

“Evidence gathered must be protected,” Connelly said. “So we’re moving with caution as we move forward with the collection of evidence and removal of debris.”

Dave Anson, the chief deputy coroner for Vanderburgh County, told The Associated Press that the identities of the people who died would not be released until the next of kin has been notified.

Evansville Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Anna Gray said at least one other injury was reported and that victim was taken to a local hospital for treatment for non-life-threatening injuries.

Connelly said a total of 39 houses were damaged by the explosion and 11 were completely destroyed.

The cause of the explosion has not been determined, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is actively assisting in the investigation.

“They are doing tests on the integrity of the gas line from the main to the meter,” Connelly said.

“Debris is strewn over a 100-foot radius,” including “typical construction materials” such as wooden boards, window glass and insulation, Connelly said.

Aerial video posted on social media shows damage in a residential neighborhood with police and fire vehicles on the scene in Evansville, on the Kentucky border.

CenterPoint Energy, the local gas utility, was last called to the home in January 2018, Connelly said. CenterPoint issued a statement saying it “worked with first responders to secure the area.”

“It’s a sight that you never hope to see as a mayor, as a resident, knowing that three of your fellow citizens are killed as resulted in the devastation,” Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said on “Morning in America.” “I’ve seen pictures that have been posted online. But when I walked by the residence with the fire chief, it was like a punch to the gut. It was so devastating.”

The blast happened on one of the city’s busiest streets, so “it’s a miracle that there weren’t more fatalities,” Winnecke said.

“CenterPoint Energy is working closely with the Evansville Fire Department, State Fire Marshal and other agencies as the investigation of this incident continues,” the utility said.

Jacki Baumgart, an office manager at Award World Trophies about 2 1/2 blocks from the site of the explosion, said she and other employees in their building panicked when they heard the loud blast and saw smoke.

“We thought a tree fell on the building or a car ran into the place,” Baumgart said. “Debris from the ceiling came down.”

She continued: “Everybody here immediately ran out of the building. We thought the building was going to come down.”

It was the second house explosion in the area in just over five years. A house explosion on June 27, 2017, killed two people and injured three others.

It’s unlikely the two blasts were related, Winnecke said.

Wednesday’s explosion also brought to mind a massive blast in 2012 that destroyed or damaged more than 80 homes on Indianapolis’ south side and killed two people. A man was convicted of tampering with a natural gas line at his then-girlfriend’s home in an attempt to commit insurance fraud, with the explosion killing two next-door neighbors. That man, his half-brother and girlfriend all received long prison sentences.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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