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New York house explosion kills toddler, injures 17

Officials say a gas leak may be to blame in a deadly house explosion that killed a toddler on New York's Long Island. WNBC's Tracie Strahan reports.

Authorities are investigating the cause of an explosion that leveled a house on Long Island, N.Y., killing an 18-month-old baby and injuring another 17 people, officials said.

Rah-quan Palmer died in the blast that razed his family's two-story home on Prospect Drive in Brentwood just before noon Tuesday. Palmer's mother, Christina Morgan, 23, and his father, Rashamel Palmer, 28, remain hospitalized along with their tenants Calvin Harris, 23, and 63-year-old Irving Justiniano.

A State Farm Insurance agent, 46-year-old Patricia Salegna-Maqueda, who had been assessing a recent claim submitted for flooding, and a plumber, 48-year-old Michael Ray, also were injured.

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. 

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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 he 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.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation. Authorities say two 200-pound propane tanks were discovered in the debris and are investigating if the propane may have contributed to the explosion.

National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd says it appears natural gas was not used in that house or on the entire block. 

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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