BRENTWOOD, NY - An apparent gas-related explosion destroyed a house in a Long Island suburb of New York City on Tuesday, killing a toddler and sending 14 other people to hospitals.
Surrounding houses in the middle class neighborhood also were damaged by the blast, which occurred just before noon.
The entire structure of the house -- situated on a block of well-kept, modest homes near a public golf course in this ethnically diverse middle class suburb -- was reduced to small shards of wood, plywood, drywall, insulation and other building material. The air conditioners in one neighbor's home were blown out and a window was knocked out of its casing.
"Clearly, this was a powerful explosion," said Suffolk County Police Department Deputy Chief John Meehan. He added that it didn't seem like the residents had much warning that it was coming. "We don't believe the occupants had any sense they were in danger," he said.
Brentwood Fire Department Inspector Robert Keane said the initial investigation indicated the explosion "could be gas-related." A police official said there were two, 200-pound propane gas tanks on the premises, but that no natural gas lines were present on the block.
"Everything shook," said Dave Grant, who heard the explosion and raced about seven blocks to the scene. When he arrived, he smelled gas and heard a policewoman yelling, "We need help! We need help!"
He saw other officers holding up part of the roof and said, "I just dove in to help."
"We just grabbed one guy in there," said Grant. "They lifted that roof up to get the guy out."
An 18-month-old boy, who was pulled from the rubble and rushed to the hospital, died. Residents, neighbors, a plumber and rescuers were among those who were hurt or suffered from smoke inhalation.
Three of the injured had been inside the house and were in serious condition. Authorities said they did not know if they owned the house or were renters.
Anthony Acevedo, 16, who lives up the street, said he was working on his computer just before noon.
"I heard a huge explosion, just like `boom,' and like the house shook," he said. "Things were falling off the walls. I thought a tree had fallen on our house. The neighbor up the street was yelling `they need help, they need help,' so I quickly ran to call 911. One guy came out, he was just all burned; his clothes were ripped. Then they got a girl out and she kept screaming, `Oh my God, my baby's in there; get my baby out."'
Authorities did not immediately identify the victims.
Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, chief of the Suffolk County homicide squad, said it will take some time to determine the exact cause. "We'll be here all night," he said.