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

The deceased are Clyde and Elizabeth Howe, family members confirmed. Elizabeth Howe's daughter, Elianna Vazquez, 17, is in stable condition at a local hospital, according to Gerald Vetter, president of Light of Christ Catholic Schools, where Vazquez is a student.

No one else was home at the time of the explosion.

The explosion took place about 12:14 a.m. at the home off N.D. Highway 1806 about 5 miles north of Mandan, according to the Morton County Sheriff's Department. The blast was reported by a neighbor, who said it caused his house to shake. There was no fire.

The 5-year-old house was scattered across the packed snow, with doors and chunks of wall flying more than 100 feet from the foundation.

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

The cause of the midnight blast 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 at the time of the blast, smelled what he thought was sewer gas earlier in the day, Herr said. Propane is typically odored to alert people of leaks.

Eric Howe, 35, a son of Clyde Howe, said the house had geothermal heating, a fireplace and a propane tank, but no natural gas.

"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 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 went to aid the family after hearing Vazquez screaming for help.

Clyde Howe, 60, was lying in the snow in the subzero temperatures. He 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, he 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, HIT in Mandan and the VA, 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 with a trip to Mexico. Each left behind three children. Clyde Howe's children are 35, 34 and 28 years old. 

Vazquez is a senior at St. Mary's Central High School in Bismarck. Vetter 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 the availability of counseling and chaplain services. 

Vetter said the message of the service, led by the Rev. Jared Johnson, chaplain at the high school, was: "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 Disney World or 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 spaniel. The other two, Beans and Norma, are Lhasa Apsos.

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 anymore to figure out the details," he said.

A GoFundMe account has been started for Elianna Vazquez at www.gofundme.com/elianas-medicalessentials-fund.

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Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com

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