INpolis, IN – By Tom Spalding

It was difficult to tell residents from repair crews as cleanup of a historic neighborhood rocked by a gas explosion continued on Thursday.

Rain-soaked electricians, insurance adjusters, glass installers and restorers swarmed the debris-filled neighborhood around the 300 block of South Ritter Avenue. Owners and occupants of the roughly 60 damaged homes also poked and prodded at battered siding and broken windows as they calculated repair costs.

They were joined by workers from Citizens Gas & Coke Utility, whose tests have yet to pinpoint the source of a suspected natural gas leak that leveled a home around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, injuring 49-year-old Robert Oliver.

“I can’t speculate on what the cause is. It’s undetermined,” said Citizens Gas spokesman Dan Considine.

Oliver was in fair condition Thursday at Wishard Memorial Hospital and not immediately available to answer questions. A relative said the family had been told not to comment about the blast. Indianapolis Fire Department investigators interviewed Oliver, but the details of that were unavailable.

All told, four homes were destroyed, 17 suffered major damage and 47 suffered minor damage, with estimates of total damage nearing $1 million, said Steve Robertson, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency. The blast radius was significantly greater than similar explosions, he noted, but Robertson said “it doesn’t approach the devastation that we’ve seen with the floods or the tornado” that struck Sept. 20, 2002.

In their quest for the cause, workers from Citizens Gas meticulously bored holes into the snow-covered street and used portable sniffers to check for any leaks in the 33-year-old underground system that delivers gas from the steel main through plastic service lines to the homes.

Ritter Avenue resident Jenny Kidwell, who lives next door to the home that exploded, shoveled snow off a driveway as an adjuster photographed damage on her front porch.

It will “take some time to get some sense of normalcy” again for her family, she said. The debris alone is keeping their beloved 10-year-old yellow Labrador, Threesie, from going outside.

“There’s too much glass and nails out here, and you’ve got to watch out for her paws,” Kidwell said.

Near Kidwell’s home, Pat Rosner walked around her century-old apartment home on Ritter Avenue with an appraiser. Rosner figured she’d feel lucky if repair costs didn’t exceed $30,000, she said. The outside of a wall on the south side of the house stayed intact, but it might have shifted during the blast.

“We had just a week ago finished all the apartments, and (now) we have to do it again,” said Rosner, who lives in New Palestine. “The thing is you have to look back and count your blessings. The house is not structurally bad, and it can be fixed. And people are safe.”

Robertson, the county emergency official, said no one has yet applied for financial assistance from the county, and he believed that most everyone involved was insured. Until the source of the blast is determined, it’s also unclear who would be stuck with the final bill.

“I think this is so speculative, but if one homeowner was found liable, the other homeowners’ insurance (companies) would want to go after that homeowner’s insurance coverage,” said state Insurance Commissioner Sally McCarty. “There’s so many variables, it’s hard to say who’d be at fault until everything was sorted out.”