HARMONY -- Steven Mark and Charlene Shipp live next door to the Tom Miller property that exploded on Thursday. The Shipps have been friends with Miller for years and take care of his cats when he travels to Ohio to visit his children.
When the explosion occurred, Mark was having surgery. He had his leg amputated, recovered enough to return home on Wednesday night, fell, and had to go back to the hospital at Indianapolis for surgery on Thursday. Being in Indianapolis, the Shipps did not hear their neighbor's house explode but they are still feeling the effects. Their house has shifted off its foundation, windows are broken, the south wall has buckled, and the roof tiles are curled. The room where Mr. Shipp usually works on his hobbies is a mess.
The Shipps were lucky. At first, they were told it was their house that exploded.
Son-in-law, Scott Brackney was working at Great Dane when the call came for the Van Buren Volunteer Fireman to report to 9974 N. County Road 200 E. (Harmony Road). Scott knew that address. Panicked, he called his wife Laura at the hospital then raced to the scene.
Charlene's mother, Martha Thompson, was visiting from Tennessee. Martha stayed behind when everyone loaded into one vehicle to go to the hospital. She was seated at the south window and saw Tom Miller go out his door. He then turned back around, went in, and the house exploded. She felt the entire house shudder. She saw her granddaughter's Explorer lift off the ground. Mrs. Thompson's 84-year old legs hurried toward Tom but she was intercepted by one of the neighbors telling her to call 911.
The Clay Community School bus helped deflect the impact against the Shipp home. Laura (Shipp) Brackney could see projectiles sticking out of the bus, projectiles that would have hit her parents' home. Their vehicles have to remain parked until the insurance adjuster arrives. A contractor is scheduled to assess the damage to their home on Monday.
Mark's doctor won't release him to go home to an unsound structure. Tom is now recuperating at Holly Hills but had to be driven past his home and to see his best friend Tom's used-to-be-house. Charlene and Martha are still staying in the Shipp's home but are unsure what will need to be done to make it a safe home again.
The Dean family were not so lucky. Their home sets on the south side. Windows are gone. There is no electricity. The siding is ruined. There is a hole in the roof. Authorities told them Thursday it was not even safe for them to place plastic over the hole to protect their belongs. Their property is considered too dangerous to be habitable at this time. It has been condemned. They were later able to retrieve some belongings and board up some windows. The Deans are now renting a house near Pell's Roofing and the Auction House. Their house acted as the buffer for the Maynard home on the next lot to the south.
Jean Maynard has gone back home but is afraid to have her girls stay in the house. She had complained of a strange odor in the front part of her home for months. The gas company had come out, diagnosed a furnace leak, and had turned off the fuel to the furnace last May. Jean just did not want to deal with a new furnace until she had to do it this fall. She thinks it may have helped to save her home because the gas to the furnace was shut off at the time of the explosion. Even after the fuel was shut off, the odor persisted. It was better but it still bothered the family. They have kept the front windows open all summer just to be on the safe side. Walkers, out for an evening stroll have noticed the smell but could not decide if it was gas or not.
Jean Maynard says the strange gas-like smell is now gone. Whatever else the explosion did, it eliminated the smell from her home. Natural gas would not have the same smell as propane. Still, she is afraid to bring her girls home. Her home had things knocked off the walls and cabinets flew open spilling their contents. She has a crack in the ceiling but does not yet know what structural damages to the foundation have occurred. Jean's house is habitable but she is still too frightened to actually live in the home with her family. The gas company told her everything is safe now but she is just plain scared.
The King family, living across the street from the explosion, had a window blown out right beside the chair where Mrs. King was sitting. The house is full of glass fragments and the building materials from Miller's fill the yard.
As the neighbors work to put their lives and homes back together, everyone worries about Tom Miller. One neighbor described him as a man that would "give you the shirt off his back." Karen (Shipp) Frickard, her son Benjamin and niece Lindsey have made signs and hung them on Tom's trees. Even though he can't see them now, they want him to see the pictures and know that he is missed and that the entire community is anxious for him to return.
According to neighbors, Tom is in a medically-induced coma. It was feared that he had damaged his kidneys but that condition has improved. He is scheduled to have surgery on his hands today.
If you are able to help contribute to Clay Community School's Tom Miller Day scheduled Friday. It will take a long time for Tom to heal and get his life back together. His burns are not as bad as originally thought but it will still be a long healing process.