Thornton Heath gas explosion: Residents evacuated during fatal house collapse to return home

About 500 people had to leave their homes while the leak was fixed after last Monday’s blast.

Hundreds of residents evacuated after a fatal gas explosion in south London have been allowed to return home.

The blast which occurred in Galpins Road in Mitcham last week, killed four-year-old Sahara Salman and injured two others.

About 500 people had to leave their homes while the leak was fixed after last Monday’s blast, with a refuge area set up at New Horizon Centre on South Lodge Avenue.

Some residents were due to return on the weekend but Southern Gas Networks (SGN) said it was not yet safe.

Damage to homes caused by suspected gas explosion that demolished a home yesterday killing a four-year-old girl in Thornton Heath. Credit: SWNS

It declared the area safe on Tuesday.

Camilla Cunningham, a British Red Cross emergency response officer, who was supporting displaced residents at the refuge, said: “I was there on the second day when people had been rapidly evacuated because of possible further leaks.

“Information was still coming out and no-one had all of the answers because it was a live, ongoing situation.

“And of course, there is the death of Sahara, the little girl who lost her life, which adds another layer of sadness and grief for the community and all affected.”

She added: “We supported registration, signposting and trying to identify people’s needs and meet them where we can.

“The response was on such a massive scale, and at that point the rest centre was full. It was quite a task to manage that many people during an emerging situation.”

Husband and wife Derek and Marilyn Williams are long-time Red Cross volunteers, who responded to the Grenfell Tower disaster, and the Wennington fire.

Derek said: “When the cordon was extended, the rest centre became very busy. People had gone to work as normal, only to return to find they couldn’t access their homes.

Sahara Salman, 4, was killed when her house on Galpins Road was demolished during the blast on Monday morning at around 7am. Credit: GoFundMe

“Many of them came to the rest centre which was a cauldron of grief, concern and distress; some were a little tearful.

“We were helping distribute hygiene packs, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors for men, nappies, baby milk and soap - essential items in addition to emotional support.

“Local stores and the wider community responded brilliantly, and we were just trying to ensure that everyone had what they immediately needed.”

Marilyn said: “We feel we have made a difference because people have told us how grateful they are for our support.”

Police and Health and Safety Executive officials are investigating the gas explosion in Thornton Heath which killed little Sahara Salman. Credit: SWNS

Merton Council said almost all residents, most of whom have been staying in hotels for more than a week, would be returning from Wednesday (August 17), with the exception of those from a handful of houses closest to the blast.

One house was completely destroyed by the explosion, while two neighbouring terraced homes suffered extensive damage and several more had smashed windows.

Three people were seriously injured, including an 11-year-old boy and a 54-year-old woman.

An SGN spokesman said: "Our engineering teams have now completed work in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, to disconnect a section of our gas network in support of the ongoing police investigation.

Displaced residents are being supported at the New Horizon Centre on South Lodge Avenue.

"Residents will start to return home tomorrow in an operation managed by Merton Council, however this will take time due to the need to complete safety checks on all properties."

Merton Council said: “We will be supporting the returning residents with food vouchers and cleaning of their properties

“A small number of people will not be going home soon – their homes are near the site and are badly damaged – we will be supporting those people individually.

“Please avoid the area as there will be a lot of activity on site.

A child has died after a house collapsed in Thornton Heath. Photo: LFB

“In the meantime, our staff will continue to provide support from the New Horizon Centre.”

Red Cross crisis response manager Cristina Dalton said: "Our thoughts are with the family whose lives have been devastated by this incident.

“We are doing all we can to provide support to them and to the friends and neighbours in this community who have been so deeply affected by this incident.

“It goes without saying how painful this must be for everyone involved.”

She added: “Our volunteers have been working alongside emergency services and the local council by bringing support and information to people at the rest centre.

“They offer a listening ear to help people process what they are going through, as well as practical information and advice."

The Met Police’s specialist crime command has launched a criminal investigation.