A vacant Hempstead house exploded Wednesday, sending two people to the hospital with minor injuries and setting a house next door on fire, authorities said.
The cause of the 2:20 p.m. explosion at 180 Perry St. was being investigated Wednesday night, with county fire marshals focusing on the basement, Hempstead Fire Chief Scott Clark said from the scene.
"It looks like a bomb went off," Clark said, adding that the house may be in foreclosure and possibly owned by a bank. He said there was no fire at the house.
Clark and National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said it was too early for the cause to be determined, but some residents said Wednesday they had smelled gas in the area as early as Monday. Investigators looked for clues after a backhoe cleared debris.
Debris was strewn 75 feet away, Clark said, and hit the eyes of a 9-year-old girl in a house next door. That home also had some debris damage, the chief said.
Girl in nearby home hurt
Joseph Auguste, the girl's father, is in the military and stationed in Virginia.
"My daughter was injured, but by the grace of God, it wasn't that bad," he said. "I'm pretty sure she's already been released, but I haven't been able to talk to her yet." He said his wife, Marie Guerrier, was "very shocked, very emotional right now."
Auguste added: "They tell me my house has serious structural damage; somebody told us it's unlivable."
A neighbor two doors down said the girl was at her computer in her home, adjacent to the collapsed home, when she was cut on the face by debris.
She was taken to Nassau University Medical Center, along with an older female who was also in the house and was being treated for anxiety, Clark said.
The blast started a fire at another neighboring house, but how that happened was unclear, Clark said. "There must have been a fireball" from one house to the other, he said.
Two people inside escaped without injury while flames melted the siding and burned the kitchen, Clark said. Seven fire departments responded and the blaze was put out in less than half an hour, he said.
The owner of the collapsed house could not be reached, but two neighbors said the house was unoccupied. It had previously been rented to college students and the most recent occupant moved out last year, they said.
The blast was so loud that some residents thought the trouble had started in their homes. Once outside, they didn't see any fire from the destroyed house, but one neighbor reported seeing smoke rising from the rubble.
"I heard an explosion. I thought a tree went through my window," said Helima Baltimore, 40, who was working at home across the street. Running out, she said, she saw smoke and "the whole front of the house was on the floor."
Neighbor Tanisha Denton, 38, thought her boiler had blown up: "It felt like my house -- like the foundation from my house was going."
Wednesday, National Grid checked homes nearby for leaks and found no readings, Ladd said.
The exploded house was a National Grid customer. No leaks were found from the gas pipes from the street to the house, she said.
Reports of gas smell
Ladd said the company received a report of a gas smell in the air Monday, but that was a block away on Beverly Road. No leak was found, she said.
Chris Hardaway, 22, who lives two doors from the destroyed house, said he smelled gas on Tuesday but did not call police.
A woman who works at a day-care center three houses down also said she smelled gas on Monday and Hempstead police responded to her 911 call.
"They said they didn't smell anything," said the woman, who would give only her first name, Katherine.
The Long Island Red Cross said it was providing emergency housing, food and clothing for two adults and three children living next door and was at the hospital to offer services to the other family of one adult and three children.
With Greg Emerson,
Gary Dymski, Matthew Chayes and Patricia Kitchen