INDIANAPOLIS -- A massive explosion sparked a huge fire and killed two people and damaged or destroyed about three dozen homes, authorities said yesterday. The powerful nighttime blast shattered windows and crumpled walls and could be felt three miles away.

Aerial photographs of the once-tidy neighborhood of one- and two-story homes showed two reduced to blackened pits of debris. Other homes had sections gutted by fire or holes in their roofs or walls. Siding dangled from other homes, and crumpled garage doors hung from houses nearby.

It wasn't clear what caused the blast about 11 p.m. Saturday. Firefighters responding to a call about a house fire were surprised by a much bigger blaze. The fire centered on four homes. Two were leveled and two others had only the frames standing, Deputy Chief Kenny Bacon said.

The damage extended two blocks in every direction, he said, and fire officials didn't initially realize the extent of it in the darkness. City and fire officials said about two dozen homes were uninhabitable and would have to be torn down.

Residents described a loud boom that shook their homes, blew out windows and collapsed ceilings. Outside they found a chaotic scene with flames rising against the Indianapolis skyline to the north.

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Bryan and Trina McClellan were at home with son Eric, 23. Two toddler grandchildren were in the basement. One held his ears and said, "Loud noise, loud noise."

"Somebody was trapped inside one of the houses," Eric said. "Firefighters were trying to get to him. I don't know if he survived." He was ordered to leave the area. Seven of the injured were taken to a hospital.