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Blast neighbors yearn for answers

– When a house two blocks away exploded with a deafening boom, the staggering force knocked Billie Chipman to the floor. The freckled 16-year-old hasn’t slept since.

“I was walking to the couch and I fell,” she said Thursday. As clocks and pictures rained down off the walls late Saturday, “I put a blanket over my face and screamed.”

The teen spends evenings in her room, dodging sleep and the nightmares that follow. Even in the November sunshine, her dark eyes remain haunted by the thought there might be another explosion.

Her father, Barry, said the neighborhood is growing impatient for answers about Saturday night’s fiery blast, which killed two people and left the Richmond Hill subdivision strewn with debris and several homes in ruins.

“We want to know what the hell happened, so we can get back to normal,” he said Thursday as he waited for city code enforcement officials to inspect his home.

Investigators believe the explosion was caused by natural gas, and they’re focusing on gas appliances in the homes in the center of the blast zone.

Fire Capt. Rita Burris said investigators, who have been laboring through the night under spotlights, hope to wrap up their work at the scene by the end of the week, although they aren’t putting a timeline on determining what caused the blast.

Most residents, even those with heavily damaged homes, have been allowed inside on a careful, limited basis to retrieve necessities, such as toiletries and credit cards, city code enforcement official Adam Collins said.

Some, like Chipman, never left. He said a police officer who lives nearby advised him to leave in case there was another explosion, and many neighbors did. But many didn’t, Chipman said.

“More people stayed than anybody realized,” he said.

On Thursday, the Marion County coroner’s office said it used dental records to positively identify the two people killed in the explosion: 36-year-old Jennifer Longworth and her 34-year-old husband, John Dion Longworth.

The cause of their deaths has not been determined, but they had been presumed dead, as their home was destroyed in Saturday’s explosion.