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Associated Press
Utility workers and investigators stand outside destroyed homes in the Richmond Hills subdivision in Indianapolis.

Analysis of blast could take time

– Investigators looking for the cause of a deadly Indianapolis house explosion got more support for their theory that natural gas was a factor Wednesday when 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 odor off and on for weeks.

Still, finding the actual cause could take time as investigators search through homes that have been battered or obliterated for any clues about faulty appliances and gas leaks. It’s possible they may never be able to pinpoint the cause.

“Extensive gas explosions are not easy to put back together,” forensics consultant Jay A.Siegel said. “Finding the pieces and putting them back together is a giant puzzle.”

Randall Cable, an attorney for homeowner Monserrate Shirley, said Wednesday that the woman’s daughter had complained of an odor outdoors and in the garage area for several weeks before Saturday’s blast that leveled two homes and left dozens more uninhabitable. Two people were killed.

“Once they went inside, they didn’t smell it,” Cable said. The odor wasn’t strong enough to concern the adults, so they didn’t report it, he said.

John J. Lentini, a fire investigation expert, said investigators will have to trace gas lines, valves and appliances inside homes where little more than charred boards and debris remains.

“You have to check the gas lines, and they tend to be gone,” Lentini said. “You’re probably not going to have much more than the meter.”

In a natural gas explosion, leaking fuel builds up in an enclosed space until something ignites it, experts said.

“It seldom happens that there’ll be no fragment left of a gas appliance if it explodes,” Siegel said. “Most often you will find large pieces of the appliance somewhere around. It may not be at the point of origin. It may be somewhere else in the house, hurtled through the wall.”

But sometimes no certain cause can be found.

“There are lots of explosions and fires where you have no cause, or no determined cause. And sometimes gas explosions fall into this category where you just can’t figure out what caused the explosion,” Siegel said.