Letter Re: Natural Gas Explosion in Indianapolis

Just writing in for the first time to bring an interesting incident to the forefront of the readers minds. It’s been lost in the national news since it happened .

Saturday night, November 10, 2012 at just past 11 p.m. an explosion rocked a south Indianapolis neighborhood. Officials immediately cordoned off the neighborhood and started doing sweeps of the debris looking for survivors. In all four houses were totally destroyed, two were wiped to the foundations. Several surrounding homes were damaged beyond repair and 80 homes were damaged. The scene looked like a war zone with the look of a 500 pound bomb explosion (minus the crater). Luckily for the couple who lived in the house where the blast originated, they had gone gambling at the casino. They won this bet for sure. The couple in the house next door weren’t so lucky. They both perished in the explosion and accompanying fire. The wife was a teacher in the school system that my children attend.

Moments after the initial blast that was heard and felt up to 20 miles away, sirens wailed on  for hours. Emergency crews flooded the neighborhood causing gridlock in the surrounding area. There was no way for survivors in the vicinity of the blast to drive away due to water hoses and emergency vehicles. Many survivors were moved to a school located across a field from the subdivision with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Gas and electricity was cut off to keep the emergency workers safe. The division of code compliance was soon on the scene in the early morning hours to check the area for structures that were deemed unsafe and they were tagged such so no entry was permitted. Some homes will need to be bulldozed, many of which were knocked off their foundations.

The Subdivision is a standard quarter to third acre lot brick faced vinyl village that has sprouted all over in suburbia. These homes are built to meet and never exceed code requirements. They build them as cheaply as possible! The rafters and deck bracing is all 1.5″ x 3.5″ (modern 2×4) construction with 1/2″ decking and wallboard everywhere. The electrical systems and plumbing are as bare bones as you can get and still pass muster. The houses have little insulation unless you pay for extra and you can gain entry through a wall with a pocketknife. These houses are total junk and sold at the same price as a custom home. I’m not surprised at all that the damage was so severe. The fire department in a town near Indy tried to find out why so many of these type tract homes burned when struck by lightening by hiring experts to come in and inspect the structures for a cause. They found that any time a house of this construction was built, they flexible metal gas lines would take the energy from the lightening strike and make the tubing fail, causing the super heated line to catch the escaping gasses on fire.

Saturday it was near 70 degrees F so many people took advantage of the weather and got some exercise. Luckily my Cub Scout troop had planned a service project at the local church. The boys and I along with many other volunteers were fighting the weeds in a hedgerow wearing short sleeves. Many people opened their windows during the day and enjoyed the warmth. The occupants of the house that exploded had left it closed up and the house was warm enough that the furnace didn’t need to operate all day, until about 11:09? The home owner got a text from the occupant (Daughter) a few days before that the furnace wasn’t working properly.

At this time the cause of the fire hasn’t officially been determined, but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that it was the furnace. (Many Internet speculators have called it a Predator UAV strike or a plane crash. One even cited Russian intelligence sources as noting a launch profile from their satellites. The American CIA had supposedly lost control of a Raptor and it fired or something along those lines. I have a hard time believing that and the evidence doesn’t support it, but hey, it’s a nearly free country.)

The response from the alphabet soup government was huge. ATF, NTSB, FBI, State police, County police, City Police and fire services were all on scene to evaluate. All residents were removed for their own safety and the houses were inspected again Sunday. The devastation was immense. People weren’t allowed back to their homes until Monday afternoon, were they had an hour to collect belongings from their homes and leave. The residents of homes that were made habitable were allowed to stay as long as no evidence was found in the immediate vicinity of their home. Many residents had no way to get around due to the damage to their cars, or the fact that the cars were trapped under collapsed garage doors. Most were unprepared and caught naked in the night. They scrambled out of their houses with little more than the clothes on their backs.

My house is almost exactly a mile from the explosion, but after a hard days work I was dead asleep when the explosion occurred. I slept right through it. This emergency was too close to ignore, too different form the one’s I have prepared for to keep me content with my level of preparedness. Things I’ve come to realize over the last few days have really shaken me up and have made me consider caches more acceptable than guarded preps at the house.

The idea that a government agency can forcefully remove me from my property for my own safety really bothered me. Not only that, they made the survivors rally at a school that is a “Gun free zone” with regard to the Indiana Code. No firearms, no time to gather preps, no vehicles due to the streets being cordoned off. Had I lived in the vicinity, I’d be homeless, hungry and unarmed in an instant with no recourse to make the situation better. There were relief agencies mobilized by Sunday but no long term accommodations had been made for those without insurance to cover it. It’s now Tuesday and there are still people relying on handouts for the basics. This would be totally unacceptable for myself and my family. I need a better plan.

I needed somewhere local I can stash a few buckets of food and provisions to keep the family happy long enough to arrange long term housing in case ours is uninhabitable. At least a couple weeks food, some cash and barter as well as copies of documents we might need. Maybe even an extra credit card and book of checks for keeping a lid on the finances during the event. Toiletries for the whole family. Cash phone with minutes in case there’s something else going on to necessitate a bailout. Insurance contact information. Personally, I have 2 locations that come to mind but only one is secure. I’ll have to enact my plan in the next few weeks to make sure it’s handled.

My biggest failure was with regard to my bailout bags. Mine is still torn apart from the last scout camping trip late last month. I was intending to replace the sleeping bag with a better rated bag for the cooler weather. My eldest son had claimed my old one so I was without until a new one showed up on my doorstep tonight. Had I needed it, I would have been unprepared and so would my eldest son. Neither had the BOB ready to go. Unacceptable behavior on my part.

Interior security on my home is pathetic. Should the inspectors stroll through my house, they would see way too much for me. OPSEC would be totally blown and I’d be on the list for having guns and reloading components stocked up. I’ve got ammo, powder and bullets strewn all over my garage and the fuel cans are easily visible. All my web gear is hanging where it can be seen without much digging. A looter with someone on the inside would clean me out in a matter of minutes. Our local code enforcement officers are paid at the poverty level so they would be my biggest concern. None of my steel storage cabinets were locked up securely. Anyone could have rifled through my weapons list and exchange books. My financials were laying on my desk for the most recent moves out of the market. Several of my guns were laying on top of the safe because I hadn’t cleaned them from a range trip the weekend before the explosion. All my Dillon equipment was out and charged up ready for use. My alarm covers the garage so I just don’t consider it a threat.

I don’t have Window and door sized plywood cut and ready to go in case I have an emergency. I have several sheets of 1/4″ sheet, but none cut for easy install. In the event of a tornado or blast, I would be unable to cover my windows and doors in a timely manner. My house would be a sitting duck without me here to protect it.

Another prime fail point would be transportation. If we were in the same position, we wouldn’t have wheels except for my bikes that I keep off site during the winter. Sounds like I need to stash an el cheapo wagon somewhere where we can get to it locally. The bailout vehicle at my bailout location isn’t moving, I need another option. I’m thinking a small minivan or station wagon that is unassuming and cheap would do the trick. Need to tint the windows and make it as soccer momesque as possible. Maybe even an Honor Roll sticker on the bumper. To add to my own ignorance, my truck (the primary BOV) is packed to the gills with work supplies that need to be brought into the garage storage system. My converted cargo trailer is also in use with a friend so I can’t even use it for temporary housing. It has my backup generator on it as well.

The primary bailout location is a few hours away in a secluded area but without my preps at home, I might not make it if the emergency is serious enough to require us to bring our own fuel. It’s all set up and ready to go but it couldn’t help me a bit if I was homeless but needed to stay here for work. It’s a unique emergency for sure.

The biggest, and most important issue we face is the proximity of our neighbors. By local code, we must not build closer than 10′ from the property line. That means our houses can be a minimum of 20′ apart. Way too close for my comfort. I’m still 100 feet or so from my closest neighbor, but not enough space if they have an explosion of this magnitude. It’s suburbia, so I’ll have to live with it. I have not been able to convince the wife to move further away yet but I’m working on it. Montana, the Dakotas, and Utah interest me, but I think she has only Montana on her mind.

In closing I’d like to point out that this tragedy was an opportunity for me to put myself into that situation and learn from it. The discipline to survive should never falter of fade. Vigilance is the key to prevailing in this climate of uncertainty. I’ve failed myself and my family and vow to enhance our security and ability to survive no matter what is thrown at me. – J.B. from Greenwood

JWR Replies: Our friend Tamara of the View From The Porch blog was about 15 miles away and heard the blast. This dramatic incident is a reminder that it is safer to live in a neighborhood where houses are more widely spaced. Keep your BOB handy. And, of course, the smell of odorized natural gas or propane should never be ignored, as the consequences can be devastating.

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