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Woman Burned in Massive Howard Beach Gas Explosion and Wall Collapse

By  Tom Liddy Bryan Graham Ben Fractenberg and Theodore Parisienne | May 29, 2013 2:38pm | Updated on May 29, 2013 9:00pm

 HOWARD BEACH - Teresa Pepitone suffered serious burns when her house at 162-39 84th Street in Queens exploded with initial partial collapse. She was rushed to hospital in unknown condition. A gas fed fire then engulfed the structure. An investigation is ongoing.
Woman Seriously Burned in Queens House Explosion
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NEW YORK CITY — Six days after it was approved for a gas-line replacement, a Howard Beach home damaged during Sandy burst into flames and suffered a partial collapse due to an apparent gas explosion, leaving one woman with burns, according to city and fire officials.

The home at 162-39 84th Street had been approved for a work permit May 23 for gas-line replacement in conjunction with NYC Rapid Repairs, a city-run program aimed at expediting repairs for neighborhoods hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, according to the Department of Buildings' website.

The "gas-fed" fire erupted just before 2 p.m., followed shortly afterwards by a wall collapse, according to the FDNY.

Theresa Pepitone, 49, was rushed to Jamaica Hospital with burns, according to neighbors and authorities. Her condition was not clear.

The FDNY called in the incident as a gas explosion, according to a complaint on the DOB website. The DOB listed the building's owner as Joseph V. Pepitone, the victim's husband.

The DOB and FDNY said the cause of the fire and wall collapse were still under investigation Wednesday evening.

WDF, Inc., the contractor that applied for the gas line permit, did not immediately return a call for comment.

John Dezago, 49, who has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, called 911 when he heard a loud explosion at 1:56 p.m.

"I just saw the brick come flying off the house and the whole wall came down," said Dezago, whose own house was flooded with 3 feet of water during Sandy. "A woman was hanging halfway out the window. She was burnt pretty bad. They called out to her. At first she didn't respond, but she was able to walk out of the house by herself."

Dezago said the house didn't go up in flames until after the woman had escaped, though it was clear she had been caught in the initial explosion.

"The fire didn't start until after she got out of the home, but the first layer of her skin was all white and her hair was singed," Dezago said.

Dezago said Joe Pepitone arrived at the house after the explosion, but before the fire started, when the front side of the house still appeared undamaged.

The couple's pet dog, a 1-year-old German Shepherd, was taken to the vet by a neighbor and treated for minor injuries, while Pepitone accompanied his wife to the hospital in the ambulance, neighbors said.

Robert Kazanowitz, who has lived next-door for 15 years, was upset to see the destruction.

"Our contractor who was working on our house calls me and says, 'Come home, we have a problem,'" Kazanowicz said. "I come home and see the house [next-door] missing, blown up. I'm devastated and I can only hope and pray that they recover."

With reporting by Ben Fractenberg, Theodore Parisienne, Bryan Graham and Tom Liddy.