Couple works to salvage belongings after explosion

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Whitewater residents Vernon and Cindy Ainsworth are recuperating at a relative's home in Cape Girardeau from injuries they suffered Monday in a propane explosion that lifted their house off its foundation.

The blast was ignited accidentally as Vernon Ainsworth, 41, examined his floor furnace at the 274 Poplar St. residence.

"I never even turned on the furnace," he said. "Where I made my mistake was when I pushed the igniter button. We didn't even know the tank was on at the time."

The tank had been filled before 11 a.m., but the couple were not aware it had been left on by the supplier, or that vapors were building up beneath their home in its half basement. They left for about three hours to shop in Chaffee, Mo., before returning home to finish some cleaning.

"Nobody's to blame," said Vernon Ainsworth. "It was something that nobody could have foreseen happening."

The couple were treated first by ambulance crews, but were driven privately to St. Francis Medical Center. Vernon Ainsworth was immediately air lifted to St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, where he was kept for overnight observation, he said.

The blast knocked him about 15 feet into the kitchen and gave him second-degree burns on his face and a third-degree burn on his wrist.

"I got lucky enough to escape breathing the stuff and closed my eyes in just the nick of time," Ainsworth said.

The blast knocked Cindy Ainsworth, 40, down so hard, she suffered broken wrists and a black eye. She was treated and released Monday from St. Francis Medical Center.

Sounded like a bomb

Next-door neighbor Elwood Ulrich said the blast sounded like a bomb went off.

"I was the first one over there," Ulrich said. "He was hollering for help, and I saw them both lying on the porch. My daughter-in-law was coming over with me and I told her to go call 911."

Ulrich spent part of Tuesday caring for the couple's three dogs, which had escaped the blast unharmed.

The couple's daughter, Amy, 18, and her boyfriend, Jesse Stoffregen, 21, also lived in the home. The family is staying temporarily with a family member in Cape Girardeau.

"What I'm mostly worried about right now is where we're going to stay," Stoffregen said. "The home looks like someone picked it up, shook it and set it back down. It's just a mess inside."

They are attempting to salvage what they can from the home, but presently no one is allowed into the structure, he said.

Vernon Ainsworth is trying to have a positive outlook in the midst of the nearly fatal tragedy.

"It's pretty rough right now," he said. "But I know it'll be all right in the end. ... We're thankful to God, of course, that we're alive. You couldn't ask for more than that."

To donate items or assistance to the Ainsworths, contact the First Freewill Baptist Church at 334-8461.

335-6611, extension 160

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