This is the first part of a two part series. Part 2 airs Wednesday night on Action 2 News at Ten.
NIAGARA, Wisconsin (WBAY) — Two people were in a mobile home when it exploded in Niagara this April. The shocking explosion was felt in the city of Niagara and was heard 30 miles away.
In an exclusive interview, Joe and Debi Hendrix chat with our Brittany Schmidt, detailing their near-death experiences in hopes of saving lives, drawing attention to an accident that could have killed them.
Marinette County Dispatcher…
There was a huge explosion. The smoke is coming from the golf course.
Explosion of a mobile home in the city of Niagara.
My house is shaking. Incredible.
Heard and felt for miles.
Hello. Has anyone called about the big bang in the Niagara area?
The house is gone.
Mobile home in pieces. This is bad. This is bad.
Insulation falls throughout the house and everything shakes.
How many people live there?…
I know there are two people, a couple of dogs. I just yelled at you. I said, “Are you okay? All my windows were blown out by the wind.” And he said: “No, immediately call an ambulance.”
“I remember everything,” Joe says.
Spending a weekend up north on my land in Niagara and taking in these incredible views…
“It’s a good vacation for us when we can relax and see family,” says Joe.
— Joe and Debi Henriks remember waking up on Sunday, April 10th to find a cold trailer.
“I just thought, well, something like a warning light must have gone out, and I looked, and sure enough, the warning light went out, and I just didn’t think much about it,” Joe says.
While Debi went to the front of the trailer to feed her two dogs, Rocky and Ralphie, Joe moved to the back to fix the propane stove.
“When I went to relight the pilot, I didn’t know that the house had filled with propane gas and that caused the explosion,” he says.
The explosion, which was felt across the road and heard 30 miles away, prompted several 911 calls.
We have an explosion. The house is across from me, and there are wounded.
“The best way I can describe it is just so much energy. It has so much power, just power and fire,” Joe says.
“I saw the flame and immediately felt pain. You know, it was like a momentary prick to back off and, and then I just felt like I was floating,” he continues, “and it felt like I landed on a hill that was probably a wall, it capsized and I as if he landed on it, slipped a little and ended up in the yard.
So much excitement. Debris is flying everywhere.
“I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. Did this really just happen?” Joe remembers.
“It just doesn’t move. It was absolutely quiet,” he describes.
Only silence as the debris settled. That is, before…
“I heard her voice. Of course, I wanted to go to her,” says Joe.
“I didn’t want her to think I was gone,” he continues. “I just kept saying, ‘I’m coming for you,’ and I got to her. She was just – the grace of God – she was in such a place that I could pull her out.
“Because there was so much damage, as if even the floor had been blown up, but it wasn’t there. And I ended up in a place where there was still a floor, so I sat in this place, ”says Debi.
She describes, “I kind of remember the whirlwind around me, like a tornado or something, but then I don’t remember. I remember almost nothing”.
But she remembers hearing her husband’s voice.
“It was just, I don’t know what happened. And he, his voice was just soothing that, you know, he’s all right.
With tears in her eyes, she says, “He’s my hero and I don’t think words can explain what it was like to see him and know we went through this together.”
Together just minutes before Debi was taken to the ambulance.
“This is the last thing I remember,” she says.
Joe, another moment later.
“If you are subjected to enough force to lift you off your feet and throw you – and that’s a lot of energy that your body absorbs – and I kind of knew it firsthand. But then again, at the time, I didn’t think I was that bad,” says Joe.
But he was. After he was airlifted to a hospital in Milwaukee, doctors quickly discovered he had severe internal injuries to his spleen and liver.
“The next time I woke up I had my stomach and I had an open sore because they could close it right away and trauma and swelling and all that,” Joe describes.
Joe received burns on his arms and hands.
Debi was airlifted to another hospital.
“I had 20% to 30% of my body burned. I had three broken ribs. I got a head injury, soft tissue damage, ”she lists.
After spending a week in different hospitals—”That was the hardest part,” Debi says—Joe and Debi are reunited at their home in Mecon.
“He left on Saturday, and I left on Monday, and we just came in, and he was sitting in a chair, and I came in, and he got up, hugged and kissed. It was, it was very sweet,” says Debi.
“Yeah,” Joe says.
A sigh of relief—finally—as they recuperate together at home, counting their many blessings.
“The only explanation we can think of is the grace of God,” Deby says.
“Everyone did the right thing. They were all quick and helpful and knew what they were doing and we just couldn’t ask for more help,” adds Joe.
But there was more help. As news of the mobile home explosion spread, people started donating to a GoFundMe page and a local bank.
“We really burst into tears just hearing about it because we were so, so grateful to everyone,” they tell us together. “We were stunned, stunned. There is a good word, even if people come to the store only to ask what we are doing, and that, you know, matters, prayers and thoughts. Absolutely.”
Family members helped clean up the rubble, finding the rubble of the house, still in shock, Debi and Jo survived.
Rick Henriks, Joe’s cousin, told us in April: “It must have been a miracle they could survive at all. I could not believe it. When you see such destruction, no one lives normally.”
But Rick says that what he found in the ruins may answer these questions.
“I pulled it out and said, ‘Look, Laura. There’s a Bible here, and it’s in perfect condition. I said maybe it’s just not their day, someone had other plans for them.”
Debi says, “That speaks volumes to why we’re still here, you know, with the Lord around us. It was, it was protection. And you know the Bible, His word remained pure, and he kept us.”
“Obviously,” Joe says. I think we have unfinished work.
And this work begins now. Joe and Debi are still on their way to recovery. They also returned to work.
They decided to share their story with us because there is a device that they didn’t necessarily know about, but that they think could have prevented the explosion, and they really want people to know about it.
In the Action 2 news at 10 o’clock, we will take a closer look at their call to action and their plans for the future.
Copyright 2022 WBAY. All rights reserved.