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Woman survives blast in rural Clara City, Minn., being buried under debris of 2-story house

A house explosion occurred Saturday at 10087 20th Street SE near Clara City. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

CLARA CITY -- When emergency crews arrived at a rural Clara City farm house around 3:45 a.m. Saturday, they saw nothing but a pile of debris and held little hope that anyone would be alive under the rubble of a two-story house that had collapsed in a violent explosion.

But about an hour later, in the darkness of the early dawn, an excavator gingerly lifted two pieces of roof from the wreckage to reveal Janice Harms very much alive.

"We weren't expecting to find anybody in the house that was alive, much less not without a lot of injuries," said Troy Sweep, Clara City Fire Chief.

"So it was quite a surprise when we found her alive. It was pretty amazing," said Sweep.

In a press release, the Chippewa County Sheriff's Office said Harms was "miraculously" located under the two stories of home that had fallen down.

Harms and her dog were the only ones in the home, located in Crate Township about 2½ miles northwest of Clara City, when the house blew apart in a loud explosion that apparently woke up a relative who lives on the same farmsite in a different house.

She was initially taken to the Chippewa County/Montevideo Hospital and later airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.

Harms had been in critical condition Saturday but was upgraded to fair condition Sunday night, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Her dog perished in the explosion.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, but Sweep said the State Fire Marshall has indicated foul play is not suspected.

He said it's possible that propane gas to the home could have been a factor, but added that explosions from propane are not very common.

There was no fire after the explosion.

"That was a blessing," said Sweep. "The house just exploded and it was just in a pile. There was just debris all over."

Some of the flying debris damaged other buildings on the farmsite.

When emergency crews got to the scene and learned that Harms was in the home, they quickly started moving wreckage by hand while waiting for equipment to arrive to do the heavy lifting, said Sweep.

There was no sound or calls for help from Harms and crews were not having any success locating her, he said.

A backhoe from Jeff Johnson Excavating arrived and one of the company's employees, who is also a Clara City firefighter, skillfully began removing large pieces of roof debris.

"And she was right there," said Sweep, quietly.

A refrigerator lying close to Harms may have shielded her and prevented more serious injuries.

In his 26 years on the fire department, Sweep said the Clara City crew has trained for everything from fires to floods, "but we've never trained for an explosion."

The Sheriff's office praised the emergency crews who "worked tirelessly to free Harms from the rubble.

Agencies that responded to the scene included the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department, the Clara City Fire Department, Clara City Ambulance and the State Fire Marshal's office.

Harms has turned down numerous media requests for interviews over the weekend.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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