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Thornton Heath: Girl, 4, dies after house collapses in massive explosion

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 08/08/2022 Josh Salisbury and Miriam Burrell
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It’s believed a four-year-old girl has died after a house collapsed in an explosion in Thornton Heath.

The child was pronounced dead at the scene while three people were taken to hospital after the explosion in a property on Galpin’s Road on Monday morning.

An investigation into what caused the explosion is underway. Residents reported a strong gas smell in the area.

Merton Council leader Ross Garrod said the community has been “torn apart by tragedy”.

“We will keep pulling together, and keep doing everything we can to support those affected,” he said.

Meanwhile Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said his “heart goes out to the loved ones of the young child who has tragically lost their life”.

“This is truly awful news and my thoughts are with all those who have been impacted.”

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) said a terraced house had collapsed and neighbouring properties had been damaged.

Affected residents were left “angry” after being told they cannot return to their homes since workers have so far been unable to turn off the gas.

The electricity in the area is likely to be switched off as a precaution until the gas leak is resolved.

Reverend Deji Ayorinde, of the nearby Pollards Hill Baptist Church, told PA that residents had been reporting the gas for weeks before the explosion.

He said: “This thing was reported and it still wasn’t resolved days or weeks later. Who takes ownership for that? The anger has built up because it has now cost a life and that’s a catalyst for the strength of emotion around this

The child found dead is believed to be a four-year-old girl, the Metropolitan Police said.

“Her next of kin have been informed and are being supported by specially trained officers,” a statement on Monday afternoon said.

“An investigation into the cause of the incident, alongside colleagues from the LFB, remains ongoing. Road closures will remain in place around the scene while this work continues.”

Engineers from from gas distribution company SGN are assisting with the investigation.

Speaking at the scene, the Brigade’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Welch said thoughts are with the family, friends and local community.

“The welfare of all involved in this incident is very important to us, and our staff will be offered counselling as a matter of priority.”

London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Welch at the scene (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Welch at the scene (PA)

Mr Welch said there were no further searches being carried out for anyone else.

40 properties have been evacuated because of the “substantial” blast area, and crews would remain on scene throughout the night for public safety.

Mr Garrod said the child’s death is “devestating”.

More than 100 residents have been supported by the local authority at an evacuation centre at the New Horizon Centre in Pollards Hill.

Food, shelter, water, medicines and wash facilities have been offered, alongside financial support as required.

 (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard (PA)

“Housing officers, social workers and other council staff are now working from the centre to ensure that all our residents are as comfortable as possible and that all their needs are catered for, including food and shopping vouchers,” said Mr Garrod. NHS workers are also on site.

“We have also been arranging for the transportation of elderly and infirm residents who were unable to leave their properties and are arranging for care home facilities where needed.

“The emergency services will be working on site at Galpin’s Road for the foreseeable future: our main pressing concern now is to provide accommodation and all the essential services that they need.”

Mr Garrod said staff have been “overwhelmed by the kindess that residents and local groups have shown”.

Members of the Urban Search and Rescue team at the scene (PA Media) © Provided by Evening Standard Members of the Urban Search and Rescue team at the scene (PA Media)

Residents at the scene had previously voiced concerns about a missing child, believing a woman and four children had lived in the collapsed house.

Many also reported a strong gas smell in the area which had persisted for around two weeks, but London Fire Brigade said it could not confirm if gas caused the explosion.

Residents said gas engineers had been working on the street but had not been seen for a few days.

Galpin's Road residents Delroy Simms, 62, and Kutoya Kukanda, 50, were branded “heroes" after they rescued three children from the house moments after the blast.

Mr Simms, dressed in his pyjamas by the cordon, said: "I was getting ready to go to work when I heard the explosion.

"I already knew what it was because that gas was smelling all week, really strong. It was giving me a headache yesterday.

"My neighbour has been calling them (gas engineers) all week."

Residents Delroy Simms, 62, (left) and Kutoya Kukanda, 50 (PA) © Provided by Evening Standard Residents Delroy Simms, 62, (left) and Kutoya Kukanda, 50 (PA)

"When I heard the explosion it was like an earthquake. It shook me up, and my house. The shutters on our windows blew off their hinges.

"I went to the window and saw the devastation."

Mr Simms said that Mr Kukanda passed children out to him as bricks were still falling from the structure.

Mr Kukanda, who had a bruise on his shin from a falling brick, told PA: "I heard boom, then I opened the door.

"I saw smoke, the house had collapsed, and people were screaming inside. I went inside and took the first baby - there were three children.

"I took one of the children, gave it to him (Mr Simms). The mother was screaming and saying: 'One of my daughters is still inside'. Everything was falling."

Maureen Clare, 74, told PA there were four children and a mother living in the terrace house in Croydon.

“They’re very lively kids. They were always mischievous, happy and bouncing around.”

Another neighbour told PA: “The little girl was very nice. She would wave at you through the window and we would wave back.”

The woman said she spoke to the mother just after the explosion, saying: “She was shaking and she was in a terrible way.”

She also spoke about how workmen had been coming into their house in recent days, drilling holes into their dinning room floor to look for the gas leak.

“They could have turned off the gas,” she said. “Our windows are gone, the roof is destroyed. The place is full of holes, enormous big holes. I do not wish this on anyone.”

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