Thornton Heath: Girl, 4, killed and three fight for life as house destroyed in gas blast

A four-year-old girl has died after a gas explosion which “completely wiped out” a house, leaving three others with potentially life-threatening injuries.

Four people were rescued after six fire engines and around 40 firefighters raced to a terraced property in Thornton Heath, Croydon just after 7am today.

The London Fire Brigade said a child was pronounced dead at the scene in Galpin’s Road, before police confirmed the harrowing news that the body of a girl, believed to be four-years-old, was found.

A statement from the Metropolitan Police said: “Police were called shortly after 7am on Monday, 8 August following reports of a fire and explosion at a residential property in Galpin’s Road, Mitcham.

“London Fire Brigade attended and the body of a child, believed to be a four-year-old girl, was recovered from a building.

“Her next of kin have been informed and are being supported by specially trained officers.

“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.”

A neighbour of the family that lost the girl described the child as “lovely”.

The woman, who did not wish to be named, said: “The little girl was very nice. She would wave at you through the window and we would wave back. She was lovely.”

The resident said she spoke to the mother just after the explosion.

She added: “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.”

Some residents at the cordon said they had reported a strong gas smell two weeks ago, and others said they had been feeling dizzy and sick over the last two days.

The leader of Merton Council confirmed the horror was the result of a gas explosion.

Ross Garrod told journalists: “We’re all devastated by today’s news at the tragic death of a child as a result of a gas explosion at Galpin’s Road.

“Our thoughts and hearts are with the family affected, and I know everyone in our community will feel the same.

“Residents rightly have questions that they want answers to, and a full investigation is underway by the relevant authorities.”

He added the council has opened an evacuation centre at the New Horizons Centre in Croydon and so far had supported around 100 residents.

In an update on Twitter, the council said: “More than 100 residents have been evacuated from Galpin’s Road.
“Council officers are at New Horizon Centre organising accommodation for those people, while the emergency services continue to work in the area.”

“If you have been affected in any way by the incident, you can visit New Horizon Centre, South Lodge Avenue, Mitcham, CR4 1LT, where council officers are providing help and support.
“Alternatively call our helpline number: 020 8545 4400,” the council added.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade Richard Welch said their thoughts were with their “family, friends and the local community at this time”.

Welch went on to say that those involved in search and rescue efforts were an “absolute credit” to the fire service and the wider community.

Crews were in “arduous” conditions for a number of hours to carry out the search operation, he said, and planned to be there overnight.

Neighbours previously said they feared a four-year-old girl was missing, with a member of Merton Council also saying he believed a four-year-old girl was inside.

Three residents were taken to hospital and have potentially life-threatening injuries, it is understood.

A total of 40 properties have been evacuated as a precaution and a 50-metre cordon is in place.

Residents in the immediate area of the explosion at a property on Galpin’s Road have been 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 now likely to be switched off as a precaution until the gas leak is resolved, the PA news agency understands.

Residents raised their voices after they were briefed on the situation by the Merton Council officers, the Metropolitan

Police and London Fire Brigade at the community’s New Horizon Centre, near Galpin’s Road, on Monday evening.

Reverend Deji Ayorinde, of the nearby Pollards Hill Baptist Church, told PA: “There is anger in the room. There is anger in the community surrounding unanswered questions.”

He said residents had been reporting the gas for weeks before the explosion and they are furious that no representatives of the gas company SGN were at the briefing to answer questions.

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.”

A spokesperson from the London Fire Service (LAS) also made a statement this afternoon, which that there would be no further searches of any premises affected by the explosion.

A LAS spokesperson said: “This morning, alongside colleagues from @LondonFire, we attended an incident in Thornton Heath.

“We treated four people. One was discharged and three others were taken to hospital.

“Sadly, a child was also pronounced dead at the scene. All LAS crews have now been stood down.”

One resident, a 25-year-old woman, said a boy’s bedroom was by the destroyed house.

She told MyLondon : “His mum was out on the street crying ‘My boy, my boy’.

“They took him to hospital and we’ve heard since that he’s ok.”

Merton Council declared a major incident and confirmed the incident was a gas explosion.

The council has also been helping transport elderly and infirm residents who are unable to leave their homes following the explosion.

Council leader Ross Garrod added that the community has been “torn apart by tragedy” following the child’s death.

He told journalists: “We have been overwhelmed by the kindness that residents and local groups have shown to other members of their community and thank everyone for their understanding.

“This is such an inspiring community, today it has been torn apart by tragedy.

“But we will keep pulling together and keep doing everything we can to support those affected.”

Awais Zahir, 26, and his uncle ran out of their home after the explosion.

They told the Mirror that a mum who lived inside the destroyed property had called the council on Saturday complaining about the smell of gas.

Mr Zahir said: “She told the council there was a strong smell of gas. There’s been construction so we assumed that is where is was.

“You never think this could happen.”

Recalling the moment they found the house reduced to rubble, Mr Zahir said: “We just stood there in shock and awe.

“We didn’t think about it we just ran out because we see the mum running and we are close with the family.

“We saw the mum screaming and calling for her kid and we couldn’t do anything.

“The mum is calling for her kid and he turned out to be okay but the girl is still missing.”

Uncle Sajjid Ahmed, 37, added: “I’ve had a phone call and I don’t think she made it.

“They told me that the family are getting together because they got the news.”

The council added that an evacuation centre has been established.

Two neighbours, Kutoya Kukanda, 50, and Delroy Simms, 62, said they helped rescue three children from the rubble, but they feared a girl aged around four or five was still trapped inside.

They believed the children’s mother had been evacuated, and said the house next door had also been badly affected by the blast.

Emergency services treated four people for injuries, with one discharged and three hospitalised.

A LFB spokesperson said around midday: “I can confirm we are still searching for one more person within the affected property.”

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We have treated four people at an incident in Galpins Road, Thornton Heath.

“One was discharged on scene and three others were taken to hospital. We remain on scene with our emergency service colleagues.”

It is not known at this time whether anyone is still trapped in the rubble, but firefighters are continuing to search properties.

A dramatic aerial image shows the roof completely destroyed and debris strewn across the street in the aftermath of the explosion.

Another photo captured the damage to shared walls of neighbouring homes.

One resident who lives across the road said he woke up to a loud bang and rushed out the front door in his pyjamas to find the house had imploded.

He’s been told he can’t go back yet.

The man, who has lived there for two years and didn’t want to be named, told the Mirror: “I woke up so suddenly, I didn’t know what had happened.

“I opened my front door and the house was gone. There are two kids who live there but I don’t know the family.

“I started filming as firefighters showed up and police said I had to leave because of a gas 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, have been called “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.”

He added: “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, said: “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.”

Mr Simms added that the house next door was also damaged, and he saw a man he presumed to be the occupant standing on top of “around eight feet of rubble, digging with his hands” as he searched for his partner.

Mr Simms said: “I went and got him a pair of shoes. He said: ‘My wife is still in there.’ Everything was chaotic.

“He was trying to dig his way down but then the fire brigade came and told him to come down because it might blow again.

“They told us to get back.”

Mr Simms’ wife, Elene, said: “We want to know why the gas board aren’t here. It’s been more than two weeks.”

Nearby residents also took to social media saying the bang from the explosion “frightened the life” out of them.

They also described seeing a helicopter circling the property.

A LFB spokesperson told reporters at the scene around midday: “I can confirm we are still searching for one more person within the affected property.”