More people evacuated after fatal gas explosion

·4-min read
Engineers at the scene of an explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Engineers at the scene of an explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

More families have been evacuated from a road where a young girl was killed in a gas explosion amid fears a leak could take days to fix.

A girl, believed to be aged four, died and three others were injured after a terraced house collapsed following the blast on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London, just after 7am on Monday.

Merton Council evacuated around 100 people from the street on Tuesday – taking the total to around 200 – and police have extended the cordon at the scene by 200 metres.

Residents are likely to be living in hotels for weeks.

A woman lays flowers near Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
A woman lays flowers near Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

Merton Council leader Ross Garrod said the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told him the situation had not stabilised since the explosion and criticised insurance companies for “refusing basic accommodation” for those affected.

Speaking on Tuesday evening, Mr Garrod said: “Firstly, I would like to say that the thoughts of everyone remain with the family of the young girl who tragically lost her life.

“This morning the Health and Safety Executive attended Galpin’s Road to begin investigations.

“Southern Gas Networks (SGN) also remain on site.

“The HSE immediately advised that the cordon be extended to 200 metres.

“There is still a strong smell of gas and we understand the leak may take some days to stop.

“I would like to stress that this is a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of residents.”

He added: “We are also facing real challenges, not least among the response of insurance companies, many of whom are refusing basic accommodation for homeowners.

Gas engineers at work near the scene of the explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Gas engineers at work near the scene of the explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

“This is unacceptable.”

Delroy Simms, 62, whose shutters blew off his windows during the explosion, told the PA news agency he could smell gas for “at least two weeks” before the blast, describing the situation as “a time bomb”.

Mr Simms, who has been evacuated to a nearby hotel with five members of his family, was hailed as a “hero” alongside Kutoya Kukanda, 50, after they rescued three children from the rubble.

The resident said he was with his neighbour when she called the gas company on Wednesday – five days before the explosion.

Mr Simms told PA on Tuesday: “She was telling them, ‘The smell, it’s really, really strong, someone needs to be here’.

“I was there during the conversation.”

Describing the smell, Mr Simms, a sales assistant, said: “It was potent.

“I remember on the Sunday my wife said, ‘That gas is really strong, they should be evacuating us’.

Gas engineers at the scene of the explosion (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Gas engineers at the scene of the explosion (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

“That day I came home from work, got out of the car and started with an instant headache.

“It was a time bomb waiting to happen.”

Mr Simms said he now feels so unsafe in his home he is considering moving away.

Several more residents told PA they had been experiencing headaches, dizziness and difficulty breathing.

One neighbour, Amarjit Kaur, also shared images with PA of engineers working on the street in photographs dated July 31, but said she had not seen them since.

A Galpin’s Road resident of 58 years, Bernadette, 87, said the girl who died in the explosion had a younger sister of around three, and two primary school-age brothers.

Bernadette, who did not give her surname, was still wearing the clothes she was evacuated in at around 7.30am on Monday after being unable to return to her home.

She said she last saw the youngster playing in her garden the day before the blast, and knows her grandmother.

Flowers are laid near to the scene in Galpin’s Road (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Flowers are laid near to the scene in Galpin’s Road (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

Speaking alongside her grandson, Callum, 20, Bernadette told PA: “I saw her playing in the garden the day before – she was playing with a ball with her little sister.

“They’re a lovely family. They are always wanting to do something for you, always offering to help.

“Yesterday, when firefighters were still searching the debris, the children’s aunt and grandma brought food out to everybody, even in the middle of their distress.”

On the ground beside the original cordon, children have written touching tributes in chalk, including the words “spread your wings” alongside drawings of hearts and rainbows.

Several bouquets and teddies had also been left at the scene.

The Met has confirmed a girl’s body was recovered from a building after the blast, while the three others who were injured were taken to hospital.

A fourth person was treated at the scene.

Firefighters said investigations to establish the cause were ongoing.