EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Authorities on Thursday identified the three people killed in a house explosion that rocked an suburban Indiana neighborhood and damaged nearly 40 homes.
Officials were still investigating the cause of Wednesday’s blast but said it was accidental. The Vanderburgh County Coroner’s Office released the names of those who died: Charles “Charlie” Hite, 43, Martina Hite, 37 and Jessica Teague, 29.
Surveillance footage from a nearby building showed a burst before debris exploded into the air, followed by a billow of smoke. Evansville Fire Department officials said 11 of the 39 damaged homes were uninhabitable.
The neighborhood was in tatters Wednesday, the splintered remains of homes flung across the road. First responders searched for victims.
One person was hospitalized. There could be more victims as state and local agencies search the area.
Here’s what we know:
Family of couple killed: Sudden loss ‘is hitting hard’
Steve Hite was on his way to his brother Charlie’s home when, one minute before 1 pm, the house inexplicably exploded.
Charlie, 43, and his wife, 37-year-old Martina were inside. Both were killed. A third victim, Jessica Teague, 29, was in a neighboring home and died in the blast.
Steve Hite’s son, Aaron Hite, said his father is devastated.
“He wishes he would have picked him up sooner,” Aaron said. “It’s really hitting him hard.”
Charlie and Martina Hite both worked for Fresh Market, and they had a table at Cowboy Jim’s Flea Market in the city. Charlie also worked as a volunteer performing various tasks for Harrison High School’s football team, including shooting video and handing out equipment.
Aaron Hite said his aunt and uncle were loving and supportive members of his family. Aaron said Charlie helped him move into his first Evansville apartment. Martina Hite, he said, loved the color purple and wearing purple outfits.
“It’s hard, truly,” Aaron said of the loss.
‘Debris flying higher than the trees’
Those who called 911 after the explosion documented the force of the blast, which rattled buildings miles away.
A mail carrier told police the explosion moved his truck.
“I just saw a bunch of debris flying higher than the trees,” he said. “And it shook my whole mail truck.”
People reported feeling the blast from across the city.
Residents said it shook the walls of home and offices, causing people to run outside, thinking the explosion happened nearby.
3 dead and families displaced
Three people died and one person was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries Wednesday, Evansville Fire Chief Mike Connelly said Thursday morning. The victims’ identities were not released.
Of the three victims, two people were inside the house that exploded. The third victim was inside a house next door.
The Red Cross helped about 15 families and provided most with a place to stay in hotel rooms, said Beth Sweeney, executive director of the American Red Cross of Indiana Southwest Chapter. The organization is working to provide families with food, water and clothing.
Wednesday’s explosion:House explodes in Evansville, Indiana, leaving 3 dead and nearby ‘uninhabitable’ homes
Damage renders homes ‘uninhabitable’
The explosion, which was reported just before 1 pm, destroyed the home. Neighboring homes were heavily damaged, and the street was littered with debris.
Connelly said the 11 homes were uninhabitable and would have to be demolished. The fire chief said he didn’t think any remaining homes would collapse but repairs need to be made before families can return.
The search for victims continued Thursday morning. The fire department had not completed a full search for the damage “due to the instability of the structures,” Connelly said.
A secondary search was completed late Thursday morning, and no additional victims were found.