Updated: Woman dead, baby alive after home explosion (w/video)

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

A woman died in an explosion that leveled her home Wednesday morning and caused damage to several others.

Firefighters found a 4-month-old girl within 15 minutes in the rubble near the intersection of Oak Colony and Whispering Oaks drives, Victoria Fire Chief Taner Drake said. The girl was taken to DeTar Hospital. She was later taken to a hospital in San Antonio.

The girl's father was with her en route to the hospital, he said.

Officials have not yet released the name of the woman, who was found about 45 minutes later.

Drake praised the efforts of responders at the scene. "Today, they were heroes," he said.

The call initially came in about 7:15 a.m., Drake said. Firefighters were alerted because an alarm went off at a home shaken by the explosion about two blocks away, Drake said.

Between 10 to 12 other homes have signs of damage. Most of the residents were evacuated. It is unclear what caused the explosion.

The home was brick and wood. At least part of it was two stories, but an aerial view showed it was blown completely to the ground.

Justice of the Peace Richard Castillo is performing the inquest.

The explosion left neighbors emotionally charged.

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 of where the debris of a two-story home lay strewn across the yard.

"There was still insulation falling from the sky," Buenger said from his home in a nearby neighborhood. "It was about 200 feet in the air."

Kerry Frisbie, 54, owns Continental Pumping Supply, 1030 Hunter Circle.

He had been at work maybe 15 minutes when the loud explosion shook him in his office chair.

After verifying it didn't come from his shop, he hopped in the car with his co-workers and headed toward the Central Power and Light plant, where he thought the noise had come from.

They directed him back to his house in the 200 block of Oak Colony Drive, where he found his house in disarray.

He lives near a cul-de-sac. One of the houses in the cul-de-sac was reduced to rubble with a small fire burning on top. A neighbor extinguished the flames, he said.

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

Two to three dogs were treated by a vet, officials said.

Frisbie said he did not smell propane.

"It never dawned on me that it would be a house," he said. "I'm worried about the people over there."

He is staying with family on Hunter Circle and hadn't been back to his home by late Wednesday morning.

"I'm going to let them do their job. I don't want to get in the way."

Jarrod Westernman, 31, was trying to mow his lawn on Pembrook Drive before the rain hit.

He had just dropped his kids off 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 lightening strike. I wasn't sure. It almost sounded like a vehicle backfire, but it was too loud. I felt the concussion on my body."

Butch Gregory, 53, owns a nearby business and said he heard what he thought was "weird thunder" at 7:10 a.m.

"We all felt it," he said of the blast. "I got a call from my daughter that it knocked off the screen door and pictures off the wall."

A man who is retired and has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years said he was picking up leaves in his backyard. He declined to give his name, but said he lives three houses down from a one-story brick home on Oak Colony Drive he described as being leveled.

He said the windows near his back porch shattered and he heard his garage door crunch. He thought at first it was a lightening strike too, but immediately smelled propane afterward.

"It was a huge boom. It almost felt like you were inside a building that was exploding," he said after homeowners were asked to wait at the Exxon on U.S. Highway 77 nearby. "The worst thing about this is we are a close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody. There's a lot of emotion going on right now."

County Fire Marshal Ron Pray is the lead investigator. The state fire marshal's office, the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and state Office of emergency management are investigating, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said.

"This is not something we deal with every day," Victoria fire chief Drake said. "We certainly want to reach out to the experts."

Victoria Electric Co-Op cut off power to some of the homes and was slowly restoring it, he said.

Red Cross has been contacted to help the family. The Advocate will publish details on how to help as soon as they are confirmed.

For full coverage, see Thursday's Advocate.

If you have information to share please contact reporter Jessica Priest, jpriest@vicad.com, or 361-574-1222.

If you have photos, send them to share@victoriaadvocate.net and deliverydesk@vicad.com.



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