INDIANAPOLIS - A thunderous, late-night explosion destroyed at least two homes in Indianapolis and set surrounding homes ablaze, killing one person and causing multiple injuries, authorities said Sunday.
Fire officials told WISH-TV that one death has been confirmed but they did not immediately identify the victim or the circumstances behind the fatality.
The cause of the explosion and fires wasn't immediately clear, but Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard dismissed speculation of a possible plane crash soon after he arrived on the scene and described a scene of devastation that went on "for blocks on end." Fire officials said separately that investigators would be checking whether natural gas was possibly involved, cautioning that the investigation was only in the preliminary stages.
Ballard said at least two homes were destroyed and authorities said several homes were set on fire in the powerful explosion reported shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday and heard for miles all around the south Indianapolis neighborhood of tightly clustered homes.
Television video showed tall flames shooting overhead and spreading to numerous homes shortly after the blast. Hours after the flames pierced the skyline, firefighters had begun containing the flames and thick clouds of gray smoke billowed overhead.
"It was so strong that it clearly had an effect for blocks," Ballard said from the area. Beyond the burning homes there was wider damage in the neighborhood: windows shattered in nearby homes, walls caved in and garage doors were knocked off their hinges.
Ballard said police have been going door to door but that it wasn't clear whether there were fatalities. Residents were told to evacuate to a nearby elementary school and people could be seen shivering in white blankets and pajamas in the evacuation.
Ballard said investigators will have to see what they find in coming days. "We're going to need some comforting in the next few days," he said.
Capt. Rita Burris with the Indianapolis Fire Department told The Associated Press that the scene looked like something out of a war zone. "It's really messy," she said.
She said by telephone that firefighters immediately began the work of containing the house fires. She said there was preliminary information of multiple injuries but she did not know exactly how many people were hurt nor the severity of those injuries.
Dozens of people were evacuated. At an elementary school where people were taken, many milled about in pajamas after they hastily moved out of the area. Others were seen with their pets, including several dogs on leashes. Fire officials were giving them periodic updates. Fire and police officials blocked off roads around the area, leaving the routes open chiefly for fire, police and other emergency vehicles.