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Victoria home explodes, kills mother, injures baby (w/video)

By Jessica Rodrigo , Jessica Priest
May 28, 2014 at 12:28 a.m.

Shards and debris of a home on Whispering Oaks Drive is all that is left after an explosion rocked the neighborhood located south of Victoria, as seen in this aerial image taken Wednesday morning.

A cavalry of state and local agencies are investigating a house explosion Wednesday that killed a Victoria woman, injured a baby and rocked homes for miles.

Haley Singer, 26, and her daughter, Parker, 4 1/2 months, were inside when a blast reduced to rubble their two-story brick-and-wood home at 801 Whispering Oaks Drive.

Firefighters found Singer dead in the debris about 45 minutes after they responded about 7:15 a.m. to what was initially toned out as a fire alarm going off in a home about two blocks away.

Miraculously, Fire Chief Taner Drake said, the baby was found alive in the debris within 15 minutes after firefighters arrived.

She was taken to a DeTar hospital and later transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio, where she was listed in stable condition in the hospital's pediatric unit at 10 p.m. Wednesday, a hospital spokesman said.

Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said the child suffered no internal or external injuries, describing her survival as miraculous.

O'Connor said there wasn't a dry eye in the bunch when rescue workers walked out of the rubble with Baby Parker.

"This was divine intervention," he said.

The baby's father, Travis, 29, is at her side. He had left for work shortly before the house exploded, Victoria Fire Marshal Ron Pray said.

'They were heroes'

Both Drake and O'Connor praised the efforts of the first responders.

"Today, they were heroes," Drake said as family members of the deceased gathered outside Coleto Baptist Church.

O'Connor said authorities could not determine yet the cause of the explosion.

"It can be anywhere from natural causes to intentional, and that's why you see such a cavalry of agencies here," the sheriff said.

The fire chief quickly added, "And just because they're here doesn't mean we have information that leads us to believe there was some kind of negative intent."

The agencies included the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, the Victoria County Office of Emergency Management, the State Office of Emergency Management, the State Fire Marshal's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"And this is not something we deal with very much," Drake said. "Explosions are not something we're as familiar with, so you certainly want to reach out to the experts and get their opinion, their advice."

Pray is leading the investigation.

"It looked like a tornado hit," Pray said.

He stressed the investigation was in its early stages, listing the home's propane tank, lightning, electrical system and any liquid petroleum lines as possible causes.

"Until we can determine what happened, we're not leaving anything off of the table," he said.

Pray said said the home used propane rather than natural gas, but either could cause such an explosion.

"Gas is usually very safe and stable," he said, but it is flammable and combustible.

The investigation will take a long time because of its thoroughness, he said. Investigators are using a laser machine to create a 3-D map of the scene.

"This kind of situation can't happen again. ... We owe that to the family and to the public," he said.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Richard Castillo performed Haley Singer's inquest. Her body was sent to the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy.

Widespread damage

Between 10 to 12 homes were significantly damaged - windows were shattered, debris filled the lawns, and the home closest to the structure was destroyed.

Inside the next-door home, an elderly woman was buried under a pile of Sheetrock, neighbor Wayne Nutter said.

Nutter said he and his wife were asleep when the explosion woke them.

"You just can't imagine," he said through tears. "It was the worst sound you'll ever hear."

At first, Nutter said, he thought a plane had crashed near his home because of the metal wreckage in his yard.

"Then, I looked over at her house; it was gone," he said.

The elder neighbor suffered a few bumps and bruises but was relatively unharmed, O'Connor said.

Victoria Electric Co-op disconnected the power for 16 homes, said company spokeswoman Nina Campos.

"The fire marshal did a walk-through to assess damage. Once they notified us it was safe to reconnect, we did so immediately," Campos said.

The co-op was able to switch the lights back on for 14 homes about 10:50 a.m.

"We were not able to connect two homes due to damage, but once the fire department notifies us that repairs have been made, we will reconnect," Campos said.

Firefighters and deputies evacuated some of the residents in the Oak Colony Estates neighborhood.

Most of those parked on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 59 near the intersection of Oak Colony Drive were asked to move back to the nearby Raisin Windmill store.

Debris falling from above

Tim Huber, 55, a cashier at the store, saw a mushroom cloud and initially thought it was coming from Aloe Field, a former training airfield during World War II.

"It probably rose about 200 to 300 feet," Huber said.

The explosion left others emotionally charged.

Kerry Frisbie, 54, owns Continental Pump and Supply, in the 1000 block of Hunter Circle. He had been there for about 15 minutes when the loud explosion shook him in his office chair.

After learning it did not come from his shop, he and his co-workers drove to the Central Power and Light plant, where they suspected the noise originated.

Workers there directed him back to his home in the 200 block of Oak Colony Drive.

In the nearby cul-de-sac, he saw a small fire burning on top of a pile of rubble, which a neighbor quickly extinguished.

"Pink insulation was raining down from the sky," Frisbie said. "We didn't think anybody was home because there weren't any cars out front, but I think later a firefighter loaded someone onto a stretcher. ... We just heard dogs whimpering."

Frisbie didn't smell propane.

"It never dawned on me that it would be a house," he said over the phone about 10 a.m. while staying with family on Hunter Circle. "I'm worried about the people over there."

Kendall Buenger, 35, said the blast nearly knocked him over as he put his kids in the car for school about 7:10 a.m.

He and his wife drove to the scene and found debris strewn across the yard.

He, too, saw insulation falling.

"It was about 200 feet in the air," he said.

'It wasn't thunder'

Some initially thought the weather was to blame.

Jarrod Westerman, 31, was mowing his lawn on Pembrook Drive after dropping off his kids at school.

The explosion blew out at least one window in his one-story home.

"My wife thought I died. She thought I'd been struck by lightning," Westerman said. "I thought it was a lightning strike. I wasn't sure. It almost sounded like a vehicle backfire, but it was too loud. I felt the concussion on my body."

Jeanie Jordan, also a resident of Pembrook Drive, thought she felt an earthquake until the rain started.

"It was pretty bad," the 52-year-old said. "It shook the house."

She didn't notice any damage at her home but said the doors on her husband's shop blew open.

Larry Martin, meanwhile, said he knew it was an explosion.

He was in bed, and the strength of it knocked one of his trophy deer mounts and several paintings off his wall about 1 1/4 miles away.

"It wasn't thunder. It just didn't have that roll that thunder has," the 66-year-old said.

Reporter Bianca Montes contributed to this story.

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