SALEM, N.Y. – A fifth person, a baby girl, died Thursday following a towering blast that demolished a two-story house in rural upstate New York, tossing cinderblocks 50 yards and scattering debris over a wide swath.
State police said they still don't know what caused the house to explode Wednesday afternoon in Salem, 40 miles northeast of Albany. Neighbors and police said a propane gas leak may have sparked the blast, which happened shortly after noon and could be heard for miles around the community of rolling farmland.
Neighbor Stacy Smith, who lives across the road from the house, said her teenage daughter looked out her bedroom window just in time to see two people fly through the air along with the splintering wood, cinderblocks and glass.
"She said she heard a loud pop like when the electricity goes off, then looked out her window and saw the house explode," Smith said, sitting on her front stoop while state police and fire investigators examined charred and splintered debris as they tried to determine the cause of the blast. "She's still in shock. She was friends with some of the kids."
Salem resident Josh Nelson, who was several miles away, said the explosion "sounded like a hundred sticks of dynamite going off."
Three people died at the scene: Tammy Palmer, 41, and Robert Sanford, 16, both of whom lived at the house, and Clarissa Lyn Porlier, 19, who was visiting.
Lawrence Berg Jr., 19, died overnight, and a 2-month-old girl, Niyah Lynn Durham, died Thursday morning. They also had lived in the home.
Six other people remained hospitalized in Albany, Westchester and Vermont.
Salem, a rural town known for its scenic covered bridges, museums, handsome period homes and historic landmarks from Revolutionary War days, is on the Vermont border southeast of Lake George. The destroyed house was on a road of widely spaced homes separated by farmland.
Neighbor Joseph Brandmeyer ran to the home after hearing the explosion to find pieces of furniture, board and other debris scattered around the yard and road and in trees. He said he was helping a woman out of the rubble when he spotted her limp baby under a board.
The force of the blast obliterated the house, sending wood and shingles across the road onto a neighbor's property. Debris was strewn several feet deep across the road. On Thursday, the property looked like a tornado scene, with clothes, bedding, papers, and building insulation waving in the breeze from the tops of tall trees ringing the yard.
State police Lt. John Agresta said the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Washington County Bureau of Firefighters Investigation Unit and troopers were examining the remains of the home and interviewing survivors and other witnesses to determine what led to the catastrophe.
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