Police say a propane explosion destroyed a Long Island house that killed a toddler and injured 17 other people. Officials say they are still trying to determine what ignited the gas.
Suffolk County authorities returned to the scene Wednesday on Prospect Drive in Brentwood.
Police on Wednesday confirmed preliminary suspicions that propane was the cause. Two 200-pound propane gas tanks were on the premises, but no natural gas lines were present.
Little Rah-quan Palmer died in the blast that razed his family's two-story home on Prospect Drive in Brentwood just before noon Tuesday. His mother and father were injured along with two tenants of the home, a plumber and a real estate agent who had been assessing a recent claim submitted for flooding.
Eleven people outside the house also were injured, including seven police officers, two firefighters and a mother and son who lived next door. Their injuries were minor and all were treated at local hospitals and released.
The dead baby's mother, 23-year-old Christina Morgan, and his father, 28-year-old Rashamel Palmer, remain hospitalized along with their tenants Calvin Harris, 23, and 63-year-old Irving Justiniano. The State Farm Insurance agent, 46-year-old Patricia Salegna-Maqueda, and the plumber, 48-year-old Michael Ray, who works with Your Town Cesspool Plumbing & Heating, also are in the hospital. Three of the adults have serious injuries.
Firefighters sifted through the rubble of the home Tuesday afternoon into the evening, seeking answers to what may have prompted the destruction.
Neighbors described a chaotic scene.
"One of them came out, and his clothes were all ripped, his face was all bloody," said Anthony Acevedo. "The mother of the baby that came out, she was bloody and crying, and she kept screaming, 'My baby's in there, my baby's in there.'"
Another neighbor, who said he often waved to the family, saw rescuers pull the baby from the rubble, but the baby wasn't moving.
"That's the sad part, and that image just kills me," said Carlos Bescosne. "I saw the fireman run with the baby."
Another woman, Dawn Paris, said the explosion shook her house and she lives a mile away.
Frank Catalano, a worker with AMS Restoration and Environmental Services said that a pipe had burst in the house last week, causing a flood.
"There were issues in the house," Catalano said. "The condition wasn't the greatest."
The house had been illegally converted into a rooming house with at least eight rooms, which were being rented for $300 a month, said Inez Birbiglia, a spokeswoman for the Town of Islip. The owner of the house was issued 10 summonses for code violations in September 2011 and was given until this October to bring the house into compliance.
Officials have condemned the houses on both sides of the explosion, which were badly damaged. Red Cross is assisting 19 people find temporary shelter until residents are allowed into homes that were intact but may have been compromised.
Last April, another home in Brentwood exploded. The home was vacant at the time and no one was injured, though 21 people from neighboring homes were taken to the hospital for evaluation.
A gas leak was believed to have caused that explosion.
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