A house in the center of the city of about 116,000 had exploded, sending debris 100 feet in each direction. At least three people were killed, and one was injured, officials said. Thirty-nine houses were damaged in the blast.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the explosion, which occurred on the 1000 block of North Weinbach Avenue, Evansville Fire Chief Mike Connelly told reporters at the scene on Wednesday afternoon. He said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was conducting a “blast analysis” at the site, temporarily halting a search for possible missing residents.
“There could be other victims,” Connelly said. “We’ve not yet completed our search.”
It’s unclear whether that search has been resumed. The Evansville fire and police departments did not immediately respond to messages from The Washington Post. A message left with ATF was not immediately returned. A representative with the Vanderburgh County coroner’s office, which had earlier confirmed the three fatalities to news outlets, told The Post no further information was available as of Wednesday night.
Officials have not publicly identified the victims.
A soundless video of the explosion, captured from down the street and published by WFIE, shows gray smoke and debris shooting high into the air over a house shrouded by trees. Surveillance footage from a nearby home, published by the Evansville Courier & Press, shows a blizzard of debris raining down on the neighborhood immediately following the blast.
“We thought a tree fell on the building or a car ran into the place,” Jacki Baumgart, who works at an office about two blocks from the explosion site, told the Associated Press. “Debris from the ceiling came down.”
“Everybody here immediately ran out of the building,” she added. “We thought the building was going to come down.”
Vincent Taylor, who was working on a roof two blocks away, described the scene as “total devastation.”
“A lot of people lost everything down here. Their houses are totally gone,” he told WFIE.
The fire department said 11 of the 39 damaged homes are uninhabitable. The fire chief told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the houses closest to the explosion were in “bad shape” and that some residents might not be able to return to their homes for the rest of the week. He said debris covered a 100-foot radius around the blast site.
The house explosion is the second to have taken place in Evansville in recent years. In 2017, a natural gas explosion destroyed a home, killing two people and severely injuring three, the Courier & Press reported. The surviving victims of the explosion sued CenterPoint Energy, alleging the utility was to blame, but lost after a judge dismissed the lawsuit because of a lack of evidence, the paper reported.
Wednesday’s explosion took place only blocks from the site of the 2017 blast. The Evansville Police Department said in a Facebook post that the area will be closed off for the “foreseeable future,” adding that its “thoughts are with those closely involved with the explosion.”
Other officials echoed their concerns.
“My heart goes out to the family and friends of those killed or injured during the devastating explosion in Evansville today,” state Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D) tweeted Wednesday. “I am in contact with local authorities and monitoring this tragic situation closely.”
Connelly said the Red Cross had responded and set up shelter for affected residents at a nearby elementary school.
Roxane Weber told WFIE she was worried about her neighbors, as well as the condition of her own home.
“It’s mostly older folks on that end,” Weber told the station. “It was like a bomb went off near us. All the left side of our house the windows blew, and I have cracks everywhere. It’s like we have an old plastered house.”