INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A thunderous, late-night explosion destroyed at least two homes and set surrounding homes ablaze in an Indianapolis neighborhood, killing one person and causing injuries as many fled in pajamas from a blast that spread damage over several blocks, authorities said Sunday.Fire officials told WISH-TV that one death has been confirmed but they did not immediately identify the victim. The powerful blast caught sleeping people unaware as it knocked garage doors off their hinges, shattered windows and caved in walls of homes on the south side of Indianapolis. Many awakened by the blast scooped up pets and ran from their homes.
Pam Brainerd, a 59-year-old hospice nurse, said she was asleep on her couch when the tremendous explosion rocked the neighborhood, blowing out the upstairs windows in her house. She said the blast was so strong it knocked items off the shelves though she was about a block away from the site of the explosion.
"I was sleeping on the sofa and all of a sudden, my upstairs windows were blowing out and my front door was falling in," Brainerd told The Associated Press. "My front door came off the frame. It was the largest bang I've ever heard."
Right after the explosion she stepped outside to see what she described as an inferno one street away. "When I walked outside I saw the fire. There was a house engulfed in flames and I could see it spreading to other houses. It looked like a war zone," she added.
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. He 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. A smell of natural gas hung in the air on a nearby route as authorities barricaded all access routes to the neighborhood to all but official vehicles.
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. The blast was heard for miles all around the south Indianapolis neighborhood.
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. Beyond the burning homes there was wider damage in the neighborhood as windows shattered and walls crumpled in.
Ballard said police went door to door after the blast to get everyone out in the area. 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 was chaotic.
"It's really messy," she said.
She said by telephone that firefighters immediately began the work of containing the house fires soon after the explosion. 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. Some televised reports later said there were first indications that many injuries were minor, including cuts and scrapes and bruises.
Dozens of people were evacuated. The scene was chaotic outside a nearby elementary school where most were taken. Many milled about in pajamas, their coats hastily thrown on when the fled their homes. One lady brought along her cat, and beyond the parking lot, smoke was still visible rising in the distance. The smoke was illuminated by bright lights of emergency responders.
Brainerd was taken to the elementary school where she waited to board a bus early Sunday to a nearby church to meet up with relatives. She was with her two dogs. She cradled her smaller dog in her arms and it anxiously licked her face as she waited to board a bus out.