EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Authorities on Thursday identified the three people killed in a home explosion that rocked a suburban Indiana neighborhood and damaged nearly 40 homes.
Meanwhile, officials were still investigating the cause of Wednesday’s explosion. Evansville Fire Department Chief Mike Connelly initially said the explosion was accidental, but later retracted that sentiment, explaining that the state fire marshal would lead the investigation to determine a cause.
Surveillance footage from a nearby building showed a burst before the debris exploded into the air, followed by a cloud of smoke. Evansville Fire Department officials said 11 of the 39 damaged homes were uninhabitable after the explosion.
The neighborhood was in tatters on Wednesday, the shattered remains of homes tossed across the road. First responders searched for victims.
On Thursday, the Vanderburgh County Coroner’s Office released the names of those killed: Charles “Charlie” Hite, 43; Martina Hit, 37; and Jessica Teague, 29.
Here’s what we know:
Family of couple killed: Sudden loss ‘hits him hard’
Steve Hite was on his way to his brother Charlie’s house when, a minute before 1 p.m., the house exploded.
Charlie and his wife, Martina, were inside. Both were killed. Teague, the third victim, was in a nearby house and died in the explosion.
Steve Hite’s son Aaron said his father was devastated.
“He would have liked to get it back sooner,” Aaron said. “It hits him really hard.”
Charlie and Martina Hite worked for Fresh Market, and they had a table at Cowboy Jim’s Flea Market in town. Charlie worked as a volunteer for the Harrison High School football team, filming videos and distributing materials.
Aaron Hite said his aunt and uncle were loving and supportive. Aaron said Charlie helped him move into his first apartment in Evansville. Martina Hite, he said, loved the color purple and wore purple outfits.
“It’s really tough,” Aaron said of the loss.
“Debris flies higher than the trees”
Those who called 911 after the explosion documented the force of the blast, which rocked buildings for miles.
One of the callers who identified himself as a postman told police the blast displaced his truck.
“I just saw a pile of debris flying higher than the trees,” he said. “And it shook my whole mail truck.”
People said they felt the explosion all over the city. Residents said it shook the walls of the house and offices, causing people to run outside, thinking the blast had happened nearby.
3 dead and displaced families
Three people died and one person was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries Wednesday, Evansville Fire Chief Mike Connelly said Thursday morning.
The Red Cross has helped about 15 families and provided most with accommodation in hotel rooms, said Beth Sweeney, executive director of the American Red Cross Indiana Southwest Chapter. The organization works to provide families with food, water and clothing.
Wednesday’s explosion:Home explodes in Evansville, Indiana, killing 3 and neighboring homes ‘uninhabitable’
Damage renders homes ‘uninhabitable’
The explosion, which was reported shortly before 1 p.m., destroyed the house. Nearby houses were heavily damaged and the street was littered with debris.
Connelly said all 11 homes were uninhabitable and should be demolished. The fire chief said he doesn’t believe the remaining homes will collapse, but repairs need to be made before families can return.
The search for victims continued Thursday morning. Firefighters had not conducted a full search of the damage Wednesday “due to structural instability,” Connelly said.
A secondary search was conducted late Thursday morning and no other victims were found.