Death toll now at 5 in NY house blast, 6 hurt

July 14, 2011 - 12:59 PM

SALEM, N.Y. (AP) — 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, the capital. 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.

"It sounded like a hundred sticks of dynamite going off," said Salem resident Josh Nelson, who was several miles away.

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 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 while pink insulation hung in the branches of a pine tree in front of the flattened house. A mattress and part of a sofa lay in the road, and a car with its hood blown open sat on the property. Cinderblocks were thrown 50 yards onto a neighbor's yard. The blast buckled the doors on the garage of the house across the road.