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The blast felt across southern Manitoba

Lori Penner

Joyce Penner's day started off with a bang.

The Morris area woman says she's lucky to be alive after a chicken barn exploded just 50 feet from her house.

Penner had put the two children in her care on the school bus on the morning of April 8, and was settling down to work at her computer when, shortly after 9:30 a.m. she heard what she describes as the "loudest boom" she's ever heard in her life.

"It was just insanely loud and very sudden - like somebody set off a giant firecracker," she says.

"I'm so surprised I wasn't knocked right off my chair and that my ears aren't ringing."

She ran to the west window of her rented farm house, located five miles west of Morris, and says all that she saw was a massive cloud of smoke. There was no fire, and Penner says the smoke cleared within minutes.

"But even then, it still didn't register. I saw that my east entrance door was open, so my first thought was to go check on my dogs."

It was only after she walked across broken glass in her kitchen, and stood on the patio on the south side of the home that she realized that the large chicken barn that used to be a big part of the landscape was gone.

"It was like somebody chopped it up into little pieces and just flung it everywhere."

Penner says the door on the south side of the house looked like someone had taken a sledge hammer to it. She immediately called her landlord, Alvin Weiss, who hurried over.

Concerned about the live power lines splayed about, she also contacted Manitoba Hydro, who then called Morris RCMP.

Local fire and EMS were immediately dispatched to the scene.

Investigation revealed that the vacant chicken barn had been completely destroyed due to the explosion. The building was reported to be propane heated, and had electrical service.

The Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner assisted with the investigation, and say at this time, there is nothing to indicate that the explosion was suspicious in nature.

The approximately 5,000 square foot barn has been out of service for a number of years.

RCMP Cst. Miles Hiebert says there were no chickens in the barn at the time of the explosion. No one was in the building, and there were no injuries reported.

"We haven't determined any cause at this point," he says.

Weiss marvels at the force of the blast, which spread debris up to 1,000 feet away. He can't understand what could have caused it.

"The propane tanks are completely intact, and there's been no power in it for years. And it was completely clean." The 50-year-old building is said to be valued at less than $20,000.

Weiss says his first concern was for Penner's safety. "Right now, I'm just so glad no one was hurt. I don't even want to imagine the alternative."

Much of the damage was caused by the force of the explosion.

Penner is surprised that other out buildings located much further west on the property were devastated, but the house, which was much closer, only suffered minor damage.

"The wall on the south side is bowed in, and the garage has been pushed from its foundation," she says. Her car, parked in front of the garage, was completely unharmed.

She later learned that the concussion had travelled east and west, rather than north and south, which explained the seemingly selective nature of the damage.

Residents as far away as Lowe Farm, Winkler, Carman, Homewood and Altona reportedly heard and felt the big boom. Lowe Farm resident Ray Gerard's wife called him at his welding shop in a panic, saying something had made her heart skip a beat.

Gerard said the windows of the shop had rattled so much, he thought his employees were playing a trick on him.

Penner says she's still feeling the adrenaline, and is haunted by the "what-if's."

"If this had happened Saturday instead of Friday, the kids would have been playing outside and might have been killed," she says.

"I'm blessed to be alive," Penner says. "I shouldn't even be here. It was obviously not my time."