Rural home explosion may have been caused by propane tank

MANDAN, N.D.--A mother and father are dead after a house explosion rocked an entire neighborhood north of Mandan early Wednesday. Killed were Clyde and Elizabeth Howe, the family confirmed. Elizabeth Howe's daughter, Elianna Vazquez, is in stable...

An explosion completely leveled a rural home on Dec. 14, leaving no indentifying characteristic and only debris from the dwelling at the site north of Mandan near North Dakota Highway 1806. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

MANDAN, N.D.-A mother and father are dead after a house explosion rocked an entire neighborhood north of Mandan early Wednesday.

Killed were Clyde and Elizabeth Howe, the family confirmed.

Elizabeth Howe's daughter, Elianna Vazquez, is in stable condition at a local hospital, according to Gerald Vetter, president of Light of Christ Catholic Schools, where she is a student.

The explosion took place around 12:14 a.m. at the home off Highway 1806 about 5 miles north of Mandan, according to the Morton County Sheriff's Department. The explosion was reported by a neighbor, who said it caused his house to shake.

Elizabeth Howe was declared dead on scene, according to the sheriff's department. Clyde Howe and his stepdaughter, Elianna Vazquez, were transported to a Bismarck hospital, where Howe died.


The cause of the midnight blast is still unknown and is under investigation by the Morton County Sheriff's Department and the North Dakota Fire Marshal's office. Investigators were photographing the scene on Wednesday morning.

Maxine Herr, spokeswoman for the sheriff's department, said there was "early speculation" that the explosion was caused by a propane tank. A son, who was not home during the blast, smelled what he thought was sewer gas earlier in the day, she said. Propane is typically odored to alert people of leaks.

"It was terrible, unbelievable what happened there," said Mandan Rural Fire Chief Lynn Gustin, who responded to the blast. "The house was basically an explosion, and it blew the house apart."

Jaime Younker, who lives up the street from the Howe family, said she and her husband were awakened by the loud bang in the middle of the night. They originally thought the blast came from their attic.

"We just popped up," Younker said.

Younker said another neighbor came to aid the family after hearing the girl screaming for help. Clyde Howe was lying in the snow in the subzero temperatures.

Clyde Howe, 60, was a military veteran who worked as an instrument technician at the Minnkota Power Cooperative's Milton R. Young Station in Center.

An employee of 36 years, Clyde Howe was well-respected and extremely reliable, according to Kevin Fee, communications supervisor for Minnkota.


"A lot of the younger techs learned a lot from Clyde," Fee said.

In his spare time, Clyde Howe enjoyed riding his motorcycle, hunting and watching sports. He was known for inviting people to his house to butcher meat and make sausage. Recently, he was talking about the holidays and retirement.

"He loved being a hobby butcher," Eric Howe said.

Elizabeth Howe, 58, was a nurse, who worked at the Mid-Dakota Clinic in Mandan and for the Veterans Administration, which is where she met Clyde Howe, according to Juana Gross, whose husband is a cousin of Clyde Howe.

"She was a kind, compassionate woman," Eric Howe said of his stepmother.

The couple recently celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary and went on a trip to Mexico. Each left behind three children. Clyde Howe's children are 35, 34 and 28 years old.

Vazquez, 18, is a senior at St. Mary's Central High School in Bismarck. Vetter, president of the school, described her as an involved student with a special interest in choir and singing. He said the school held a prayer service for her Wednesday morning and alerted students to counseling and chaplain services available.

Vetter said the message of the service, led by Chaplain Jared Johnson was this: "We can't explain why things like this happen, but we know what we can do in times like this. To pray for her and her family and to love her. Those are the two things we can control - prayer and love."


Gross said the parents had been planning a graduation trip for Vazquez either to Disney World or on a cruise.

The family's three dogs were still missing as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Gross, who was alerting neighbors of the situation.

"We don't know if they're alive or dead," she said.

Anyone who finds the dogs should take them to the Central Dakota Humane Society, Gross said. One of the dogs, Remy, is a Brittany dog. The other two, Beans and Norma, are Lhasa Apso breed.

No funeral arrangements have been made yet, and Eric Howe said the family is "just working one piece at a time."

"Literally you don't even have a home base any more to figure out the details," he said.

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