Sahara Salman: Tributes to ‘happy and beautiful’ girl, 4, killed in Thornton Heath explosion

·3-min read
A woman lays flowers near Galpin's Road in Thornton Heath, south London. (PA)
A woman lays flowers near Galpin's Road in Thornton Heath, south London. (PA)

Tributes have been paid to a “cute and happy” four-year-old girl who was killed after her home collapsed in the Thornton Heath explosion.

The girl, named locally as Sahara Salman, had been missing in the rubble as her family desperately searched the remains of their home destroyed by the blast about 7am on Monday.

An uncle looking amongst the rubble screamed: “I can’t find my niece. She was in the bedroom but she’s not there now, she’s gone.”

A family friend said both parents of the little girl - thought to be NHS receptionist Sana and her husband Syed Salman Ilyas - as well as two of her siblings escaped serious injury in the blast.

The scene after the blast in Thonrton Heath (Amarjit Kaur/PA) (PA Media)
The scene after the blast in Thonrton Heath (Amarjit Kaur/PA) (PA Media)

Thoheed Maricar, 52, said: “The mum was saying ‘my third child is missing’ but she couldn’t really talk to me. She was crying and screaming.

“Yesterday the mum was crying and she was in a horrible situation as she had just lost a baby.

“I was called up at around 9am yesterday and was told ‘uncle, there has been a big blast at a neighbour’s house’.”

“The girl is a beautiful, cute four-year-old. She was a happy girl. She played around a lot and was very active.

“I think she had started nursery but I don’t know that for sure.”

He added: “The 11-year-old boy is injured but I don’t know his condition or if he is still in hospital.

“I feel very, very sad about what has happened. It is just a terrible situation.

“The family had tried to get hold of the gas company a couple of times last week and neighbours had been trying to get hold of the gas company.

“The mum is working in the NHS as a receptionist in a GP.”

Engineers at the scene of the explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath (Dominc Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Engineers at the scene of the explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath (Dominc Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

The tributes came as a neighbour recounted how he told rescuers to stay quiet and listen for the voices of any survivors.

Martin Phillips, 41, told The Standard: “I told the husband that you have got to slow down because you could cause another collapse.

“He said ‘I have to find my wife and son.’ I asked whether they had called out their names. I told everyone to stop and listen for any response.”

“Me and a firefighter started to pull rubble off her and chuck it down”, he said.

“She was screaming out in pain, I told her ‘we’re coming’.

“I told her not to move or panic. For someone in that situation, she was extremely calm, answering questions coherently. I don’t think I could have been so calm.

“I told her ‘I know it’s easy for me to say but can you bear with us and we will try and get this off you as soon as we can without hurting you.’

“She asked ‘Where am I?’ and I said ‘I believe you’re in your bathroom’.

“And she said ‘No, I was downstairs in the kitchen the toilet is upstairs.’

“The toilet was now by her head. She was trapped and was begging for her son.

“She was badly burned but was saying ‘I can still smell gas. It’s been like that for two weeks’.”

Another neighbour Bernadette spoke of seeing the girl playing with her family regularly. She said: “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.”

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)

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.