What’s Left of Richmond Hill
Last fall’s gas explosion on the city’s southside not only devastated lives and homes, but pasts.
Steve & Laurie Lambert
Laurie: “That night, my husband went back into the house to get my wedding rings—I always take them off when I go to bed. I was yelling from the outside, ‘Get out of the house, get out of the house! It’s not important!’ At that moment, we had no idea what was happening. He grabbed a backpack and put some framed pictures in there, trying to get whatever he could. He even got me my tennis shoes because I wasn’t wearing any.
“Later, even though our house was pretty much destroyed, we were able to go in and get things. We were fortunate enough that we could get into our house and not have the fear of it falling in on us. We took a painting that my great-grandmother had painted—it was important to get things that were irreplaceable.
“The day they tore my house down, I just happened to be going past to see if there was any mail, and it was kind of a shock to see—it was pretty emotional. I stopped in front of the house, and the man stopped the machine and asked, ‘Is this your house?’ He saved the address plate. So we have our 8338 that was on the front of our house, and we’ll take that with us everywhere we go and be able to tell our children about it. This man was very sensitive to the fact that he was tearing down someone’s home. It was so kind.”
“We were all in bed, and I heard a boom—but what really woke me up was our alarm going off because all of our windows were breaking. I went down the hallway, and our ceiling started coming down. The garage just picked up and moved two feet. We were three houses down from where the explosion happened, and I thought we were being bombed.
“My kids didn’t want to come out of their rooms. I took my 4-year-old, and [my husband] Chad and I went downstairs. Every window was shattered, and our cabinets had flung open and glasses were flying everywhere. He screamed at me, ‘Can you get the kids?’ because he wanted to go comfort a neighbor whose wife and kids were trapped by drywall.
“Chad ran back into the house that night. In all of the chaos—of running, of watching the fire go from the next house to the next house, and it was only a couple of houses away—I said, ‘What made you go back in there?’ He had to grab his hat—he’s bald, and the fire was so hot on his head, he had to do that in order to do any helping. He also grabbed our wedding album because that’s what meant the most to us.
“The next day, the responders were amazing—they were able to take us in for 15 minutes, and I got one of my grandmother’s dishes—it was one of the very few that did not break. I found this picture of my husband baptizing my oldest son. And the picture with the Deuteronomy scripture wasn’t shattered, even though it fell off the wall—not a scratch on it. It was really weird, the things that didn’t break.”
Glenn & Gloria Olvey
Gloria: “We lived next to the house that exploded. We really were under the impression that everything was gone when we got to the hospital after it happened. A couple days later, we get a call saying [Homeland Security and the local fire department] had some stuff for us. My husband got there, and they had boxes of photos that they pulled out … anything they thought they could save or salvage.
“We were not allowed into the house until seven weeks later. But my husband’s father’s World War II Purple Heart, military flag, bayonet from World War II—those were just some of the things they brought out to us. I also was able to save a hand-embroidered pashmina that my mom brought me back from India.
“Honestly, had [Indiana Department of Public Safety Homeland Security] Chief [Gary] Coons and the fire department and the rest of them not pulled out the stuff they did, we’d hardly have anything at all. The fact that all those gentlemen took the time to go in and search for things—we’re so grateful.”
“I consider what happened a miracle. I still can’t believe it. We were home when the explosion occurred, but we didn’t even think about the heirlooms and stuff in the house because our son wasn’t home and we were being evacuated. Later, I couldn’t even walk into the dining room because I just knew that my grandmother’s china would be broken into a million pieces. The window to that room was broken, and I was practically in tears thinking of finding all that Blue Willow china everywhere.
“I walked in, and there was one plate that had leaned forward in its iron rack. Nothing else was moved, nothing was broken.
“I can’t even explain what a miracle that was to me. I remember it always being in her china cabinet—I doubt if we ever even ate off it. I have it proudly displayed now in our dining room, and we did the color of the room all around that china. My grandmother, who is passed away, must have been watching over me that night—and watching over her china.”
“I can’t remember if I even heard the explosion. I definitely felt it. I was in bed and had just fallen asleep, and my husband was downstairs. Normally he sits at the desk, and that’s where a lot of the devastation happened. Luckily, his back was hurting and he was sitting in the recliner.
“I have two dogs—one was sleeping under the bed and the other was next to the bed. My first thought was, this bed is going to collapse on Molly. I went running downstairs, out the front door in my pajamas, and—I don’t remember this—but my husband says I asked him, ‘What did you do?’ I turned around and saw this big fireball. My neighbors started dialing 911. After getting the dogs out, the only things I grabbed—which were the stupidest things—were a pair of jeans, my contacts, my computer, and a book that I had already read.
“The next day when we were allowed back in the house, I went through and found all these broken picture frames and figurines on the floor in smithereens. Except one.
“I’m a breast cancer survivor. My cousin also had breast cancer, and she passed away shortly after her 30th birthday. My aunt gave me her Precious Moments ‘Fight Like a Girl’ figurine and said that [my cousin] would have wanted me to have it. I had it right near the windows that blew out, but the figurine was fine. It’s amazing—everything fell off the walls and off shelves, and that was something that stayed.”
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue.