Children leave heartbreaking tributes to four-year-old girl killed in horror gas blast in Croydon

Children leave heartbreaking tributes to four-year-old girl killed in horror gas blast: ‘Spread your wings’ is written in chalk near scene of house explosion as residents tell how they could smell ‘strong’ fumes in street for ‘weeks’

  • A girl, 4, died after a house in Croydon, south London, collapsed following a huge gas explosion and fire
  • The horror blast yesterday also hospitalised three people with potentially life-threatening injuries
  • Children have been leaving  heartfelt tributes, writing letters and leaving chalk messages on pavement
  • Residents said they reported a smell of gas two weeks ago and that they had been feeling dizzy and sick

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Children have written touching tributes to a four-year-old girl who was found dead in the rubble of a gas explosion in Croydon yesterday.

While residents insist they could smell gas in the street for weeks before the blast and recalled hearing the ‘devastated’ cries of the parents of the victim as they realised their daughter was trapped in the wreckage.

The huge explosion took place just after 7am on Monday causing a house to collapse, killing the young girl and seriously injuring three others.

The police cordon remains in place around a large pile of rubble at the scene, with a fire engine and several police cars stationed outside the destroyed property.

‘Spread your wings’ is one of many messages that has been chalked on the pavement while bouquets, teddies and drawings of hearts have also been left at the junction of Berkshire Way and Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath.

On a heartfelt letter one child wrote: ‘I’m so sorry for your loss, I’m sure she would have been an amazing strong girl but now she is in a better place.’

Chalk messages on the pavement near the house include ‘taken away too soon’, ‘R.I.P Angel’ and ‘lots of love’.

Dee Akomanyi, 45, who has lived on the street for around 30 years, said she keeps having flashbacks to the horrific scene.

Standing with her 25-year-old daughter Zhane Akomanyi, she said: ‘Last night, I couldn’t sleep, I kept having these flashbacks, it’s traumatising.

‘It’s devastating, I could hear the screams from the parents when it all happened.’

The mum-of-one said she left her house less than 10 minutes before the blast and could smell what she believed to be gas.

She added: ‘Yesterday I left the house at around 6.55am and I smelt gas – it was really strong.

’10 minutes after we left there was an explosion.

‘I could smell this sweet, sulphury stench all through the night, I couldn’t sleep because of it.

‘People were reporting it, but nothing was done, it’s scary.’

Flowers and tributes have been left at the junction of Berkshire Way, Croydon, near to where an explosion demolished a home yesterday killing a 4 year old girl

Flowers and tributes have been left at the junction of Berkshire Way, Croydon, near to where an explosion demolished a home yesterday killing a 4 year old girl

The explosion in Galpin's Road, Thornton Heath, near Croydon, left three people seriously injured and tragically killed a four-year-old girl

The explosion in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, near Croydon, left three people seriously injured and tragically killed a four-year-old girl 

A touching letter by a child for the four-year-old girl who died following the explosion yesterday

A touching letter by a child for the four-year-old girl who died following the explosion yesterday

A large pile of rubble in front of where the house was can be seen cordoned off by police tape

A large pile of rubble in front of where the house was can be seen cordoned off by police tape

The huge blast completely destroyed the house and seriously damaged the surrounding properties

The huge blast completely destroyed the house and seriously damaged the surrounding properties

A number of children's toys including teddy bears, a dog and a reindeer have been left as a tribute to the child

A number of children’s toys including teddy bears, a dog and a reindeer have been left as a tribute to the child

Flowers and and letters have been left by the cordoned off area in Thornton Heath

Flowers and and letters have been left by the cordoned off area in Thornton Heath

The house explosion took place in Thornton Heath, Croydon around 7am yesterday morning

The house explosion took place in Thornton Heath, Croydon around 7am yesterday morning

Barriers are in place on the road as workers in hi-vis vests, one with 'gas' on the back, and helmets inspect the scene

Barriers are in place on the road as workers in hi-vis vests, one with ‘gas’ on the back, and helmets inspect the scene

Angry neighbours are demanding answers over the horror blast that destroyed the family home, as they revealed they had smelt gas for two weeks.

In the aftermath of the blast nearby residents have been evacuated from their homes, while there is anger at ‘unanswered questions’, with some people saying they had reported a strong smell of gas in the two weeks beforehand. 

According to residents on the street, engineers had been digging holes along the road in recent days.

Another neighbour, Adele, who didn’t want to give her last name, explained she could smell ‘really strong gas’ over the weekend.

The mum-of-two, who lives just a few doors down from the collapsed house, said: ‘The whole house shook, it was a novelty for my kids at the time, but now it’s more of a shock impact for them as reality hit this morning.

‘Other families got off worse than me. We were the lucky ones.

‘We could smell gas really strong on Sunday.

‘I was getting headaches, lots of neighbours said they were dizzy because of it.

Others also said they had been feeling dizzy and sick over the last two days with one person saying they could still smell gas after the blast which shattered windows and severely damaged neighbouring properties.

It has been confirmed that emergency utility repair and maintenance works were being carried out on the road by Southern Gas Networks at the time of the incident, although residents report not seeing any workers for several days before the blast. 

More than 100 people were evacuated to the nearby New Horizon’s Centre on Monday, where they were briefed on the situation by Merton Council officers, the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade later in the evening.

Some grew agitated and raised their voices as they were told they would not be able to return to their homes and that workers had been unable to turn off the gas.

Reverend Deji Ayorinde, of the nearby Pollards Hill Baptist Church, said: ‘There is anger in the room. There is anger in the community surrounding unanswered questions.’

He said there was anger that no representatives of gas companies were at the briefing to answer questions.

Aerial footage shows debris strewn across the road and pavement, as well as rubble where the terraced house once stood

Aerial footage shows debris strewn across the road and pavement, as well as rubble where the terraced house once stood

A left near to the scene in tribute to the four-year-old girl who died in yesterday morning's incident. Officials believe it the blast was a gas explosion

A left near to the scene in tribute to the four-year-old girl who died in yesterday morning’s incident. Officials believe it the blast was a gas explosion

The road is still cordoned off by police, but tributes and messages have been placed by the road

The road is still cordoned off by police, but tributes and messages have been placed by the road 

A four-year-old girl died after a house collapsed following a huge explosion in Croydon, south London

A four-year-old girl died after a house collapsed following a huge explosion in Croydon, south London

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Welch, of the London Fire Brigade, gives a statement about the explosion to the press yesterday

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Welch, of the London Fire Brigade, gives a statement about the explosion to the press yesterday 

‘This thing was reported and it still wasn’t resolved days or weeks later,’ he said.

The 48-year-old, who lives on Galpin’s Road and wished to remain anonymous, also said the gas company not turning up to the community centre to answer questions from residents was ‘disrespectful’.

She said: ‘They have not been here. Everyone is disgusted. It is heartbreaking, it is disrespectful. They owe it to the people who have supported the family.’

When asked about the claims residents could smell gas before the incident London Fire Brigade’s deputy assistant commissioner Richard Welch said: ‘Unfortunately we can’t say if it’s gas that’s caused it. It will become a police investigation now.

‘We dealt with the emergency phase of the incident and we will be handing it over to local authorities and local police.’

If confirmed to be a gas explosion, it would be the seventh in the last 15 months, with the previous blasts tragically killing four people – including a two-year-old boy, a 44-year-old women, a 79-year-old man and a 91-year-old pensioner. 

While some have been described as ‘accidental gas explosions’, the explosion which killed two-year-old George Hinds in Heysham, Lancashire, in May last year, has seen two people charged over the incident and they will go on trial in October.

This morning’s explosion shook homes in the Thornton Heath area of London just after 7am, with the fire and subsequent rescue operation seeing 40 firefighters and six fire engines rushed to the scene supported by police and paramedics.

The blast tore a huge hole in the wall of a neighbouring home, causing serious damage to what appears to be a child's bedroom with a unicorn hanging from the ceiling

The blast tore a huge hole in the wall of a neighbouring home, causing serious damage to what appears to be a child’s bedroom with a unicorn hanging from the ceiling

Three people have been hospitalised with potentially life-threatening injuries. One child has died

Three people have been hospitalised with potentially life-threatening injuries. One child has died

Debris scattered over a wide area following a suspected gas explosion that has destroyed houses on Galpin's Road in Thornton Heath

Debris scattered over a wide area following a suspected gas explosion that has destroyed houses on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath

The Sun reported that two adults and an 11-year-old boy were rescued from the rubble, before it was tragically confirmed that a four-year-old girl had died.

Southern Gas Networks, which had been carrying out works in the road at the time of the incident, expressed its sympathies and said it is working closely with the emergency services to establish the cause of the explosion.

Two neighbours, Kutoya Kukanda, 50, and Delroy Simms, 62, who have been called have been called ‘heroes’ for rescuing three children from the rubble at around 7am, said they feared a young girl was still trapped inside.

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’.’

Residents Delroy Simms, 62, (left) and Kutoya Kukanda, 50, said they helped rescued three children from the rubble at around 7am

Residents Delroy Simms, 62, (left) and Kutoya Kukanda, 50, said they helped rescued three children from the rubble at around 7am

Following a fire and explosion, approximately 40 firefighters rushed to the scene of a house collapse in Thornton Heath

Following a fire and explosion, approximately 40 firefighters rushed to the scene of a house collapse in Thornton Heath

Residents thought a 'bomb had gone off' when the blast happened around 7am yesterday

Residents thought a ‘bomb had gone off’ when the blast happened around 7am yesterday

Emergency services at the scene of the completely destroyed house in Croydon

Emergency services at the scene of the completely destroyed house in Croydon

Emergency services at the scene in Galpin's Road in Thornton Heath, south London, with the collapsed house in the background

Emergency services at the scene in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London, with the collapsed house in the background

Si Mahmood, 49, who lives on the street, said: ‘I heard a massive bang which sounded pretty scary. It sounded like thunder. Unfortunately I think it was a gas leak. I saw gas people there doing some work after the explosion and I know there are gas pipes under the street.’

Maureen Clare, 74, said that there were four children and a mother living in the terrace house in Croydon. She said: ‘They’re very lively kids. They were always mischievous, happy and bouncing around.’

Awais Zahir, 26, said: ‘I went to the house and saw the mum come out. She was bleeding from both her hands and trying to look for her kids.

‘She found all but one of her kids.

‘The fire brigade have just told the family she died. She was about four years old.

‘We live opposite the kids’ grandmother. At around 7am I heard the explosion and I assumed it was construction work.

‘I saw the grandmother trying to get to her daughter’s house.

‘A couple of people were gathered around the mum and she was shaking and screaming ‘I can’t find my child.’

‘We know the grandmother as she lives opposite our house. The mum often brings the kids to her mum’s house and you can hear them in the morning.

‘The window of the house that exploded shattered into a field behind it.’

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.’

Charlie Camdell, 36, who lives four doors down from the blast said: ‘Every morning I get up at 5am and I started my normal routine.

‘I was in the front room when the inside of our window shattered.

‘My partner said ‘there has been a gas explosion’ because she had been smelling the gas for a few days.

‘I can’t smell anything at all now.

‘I have seen people maintaining it and they had dug into the road before it.

‘For the last week or so you could really strongly smell gas.

‘Someone was shouting ‘what about my child’ and they were just crying saying ‘they can’t find her body’.’

Britain’s spate of gas blasts: How UK has been rocked by at least seven major residential gas explosions in the last year – claiming four lives

By James Robinson for MailOnline

Birmingham

One woman died and a house was completely destroyed after a massive gas explosion in Birmingham in June.

Doreen Rees-Bibb, 79, died in the blaze on Dulwich Road, Birmingham, on after her partner David Murphy’s home went up in flames.

An investigation found it was caused by an accidental gas leak.

The fatal explosion on Dulwich Road, Kingstanding, in Birmingham, was caused by an 'accidental and inadvertent ignition of a large escape of gas from a joint in the pipework' the report said

The fatal explosion on Dulwich Road, Kingstanding, in Birmingham, was caused by an ‘accidental and inadvertent ignition of a large escape of gas from a joint in the pipework’ the report said

Tributes have been paid to Doreen Rees-Bibb, pictured, 79, who died in a house explosion in Birmingham on Sunday night when the blast tore through the property - leaving her buried under several feet of rubble

Tributes have been paid to Doreen Rees-Bibb, pictured, 79, who died in a house explosion in Birmingham on Sunday night when the blast tore through the property – leaving her buried under several feet of rubble

Police, Fire and Health and Safety Executive confirmed the cause was ‘accidental and inadvertent ignition of a large escape of gas from a joint in the pipework.’

Bedford

Less than a month after the explosion in Birmingham, a 44-year-old woman died following a huge gas blast at a block of flats in Bedford.

Reena James lived on the ground floor of the building on Redwood Grove, Bedford, which collapsed after a gas blast started a fire in July.

One man was thrown from the three-storey building by the powerful explosion and others were said to have leapt from a window as fire ripped through the flats.

An aerial view of the building - which was destroyed in the major gas explosion. Flames ripped through the roof and engulfed the block of flats, leaving three people injured. Fire, ambulance, and police services rushed to the scene in Bedford

An aerial view of the building – which was destroyed in the major gas explosion. Flames ripped through the roof and engulfed the block of flats, leaving three people injured. Fire, ambulance, and police services rushed to the scene in Bedford

Reena James, 42, is thought to have been killed when a three-storey building collapsed in Bedford

Reena James, 42, is thought to have been killed when a three-storey building collapsed in Bedford

The blast – which was heard up to half a mile away – sent bricks flying into the air and knocked bystanders off their feet.

Fire chiefs are investigating whether the blast was caused by a resident using a makeshift heating or cooking device or gas bottles as a result of the rising cost of fuel. 

Halifax

A row of terraced houses were destroyed after a gas explosion was triggered by a shed fire in Halifax last month.

Emergency services rushed to Ovenden Crescent, Halifax just before 3.30am on July 12 to reports of a shed on fire which then triggered a devastating gas explosion. 

Six households were evacuated and two people – one male and one female, both in their 50, were seen by medics for smoke inhalation, following the fire and explosion. 

Emergency services rushed to Ovenden Crescent, Halifax just before 3.30am on July 12 to reports of a shed on fire which then triggered a devastating gas explosion

Emergency services rushed to Ovenden Crescent, Halifax just before 3.30am on July 12 to reports of a shed on fire which then triggered a devastating gas explosion

Manchester

A man in his 90s died after a gas explosion in Manchester in April this year.

Emergency services were called to Brownley Road in Wythenshawe, following the explosion.

They found Frank Burton, 91, dead inside a property.

Gas board Cadent said the gas mains and pipes ‘did not contribute to or cause’ the explosion, while police said they were not treating his death as suspicious.

Emergency services were called to Brownley Road in Wythenshawe, following the explosion

Emergency services were called to Brownley Road in Wythenshawe, following the explosion

His brother said he believed his sibling may have bought an appliance in anticipation of the energy price cap rising.

Sunderland

A huge gas explosion rocked a street in Sunderland in February – causing more than £1.4million in damage.

Two men were rushed to hospital following a blast in Roker which destroyed part of a terrace home in the city.

A huge gas explosion rocked a street in Sunderland in February - causing more than £1.4million in damage

A huge gas explosion rocked a street in Sunderland in February – causing more than £1.4million in damage

Ian Leneghan, 59, one of the men injured in the incident, later admitted to deliberately causing the explosion, by cutting at a gas cooker hose prior to the explosion.

He pleaded guilty to damaging property reckless as to whether the lives of three people were endangered. He is due to be sentenced.

Heysham

A two-year-old boy toddler died in a gas explosion in Heysham, Lancashire in May last year.

George Arthur Hinds, aged two years and 10 months, was killed by the blast, which some described like a bomb going off and a ‘thunderbolt’.

Others compared the destruction – with debris scattered in nearby streets and fields – to the aftermath of the Blitz.

A major incident has been declared after a suspected gas explosion reportedly destroyed up to three terraced houses on Mallowdale Avenue in Heysham, Lancashire last night

A major incident has been declared after a suspected gas explosion reportedly destroyed up to three terraced houses on Mallowdale Avenue in Heysham, Lancashire last night

George Arthur Hinds, aged two years and 10 months, who was killed by a suspected gas explosion in Heysham

George Arthur Hinds, aged two years and 10 months, who was killed by a suspected gas explosion in Heysham

His parents, Vicky Studholme and Stephen Hinds, were also injured in the incident. 

Sharon and Darren Greenham, of Mallowdale Avenue, were charged following the explosion.

They pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, damaging property and theft of gas at Preston Crown Court in February this year. They are due to stand trial in October.

Ashford, Kent

A hero father and son saved the lives of three people – including a 99-year-old woman – after racing into a burning row of houses seconds after a gas explosion in Ashford, Kent, in May last year.

Andy and Harry Hodges braved fire and choking smoke to save Ethel Hanford and her 75-year-old son Donald before going next door and plucking 22-year-old Shannon Pankhurst to safety.

A hero father and son saved the lives of three people - including a 99-year-old woman - after racing into a burning row of houses seconds after a gas explosion in Ashford, Kent, in May last year

A hero father and son saved the lives of three people – including a 99-year-old woman – after racing into a burning row of houses seconds after a gas explosion in Ashford, Kent, in May last year

The pair, who work in construction, were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast, which saw two people airlifted to hospital and a further five hurt

The pair, who work in construction, were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast, which saw two people airlifted to hospital and a further five hurt

The pair, who work in construction, were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast, which saw two people airlifted to hospital and a further five hurt. 

It is believed a leak from a portable gas heater resulted in the blast which destroyed one house and damaged two more.

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Emergency services at the scene in Galpin's Road in Thornton Heath

Emergency services at the scene in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath

London Fire Brigade say four people have been rescued from the scene (pictured)

London Fire Brigade say four people have been rescued from the scene (pictured)

Around forty firefighters attended the scene and the surrounding area was evacuated after the explosion

Around forty firefighters attended the scene and the surrounding area was evacuated after the explosion

Nearby properties on Galpin's Road (pictured) have been damaged and four people have been rescued

Nearby properties on Galpin’s Road (pictured) have been damaged and four people have been rescued 

Richard Welch, London Fire Brigade deputy assistant commissioner: ‘We are working with the local authority to make sure any medication or whatever else is being provided.’

Neighbours 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.

One person said they were still able to smell gas after the blast which shattered windows and severely damaged neighbouring properties as other houses in the area were also evacuated.

Residents on the street told The Sun gasworks had been taking place for ‘four weeks’ there is no suggestion the works have any link to the blast at this stage.
Mr Welch said that: ‘Unfortunately we can’t say if it’s gas that’s caused it. It will become a police investigation now. ‘We dealt with the emergency phase of the incident and we will be handing it over to local authorities and local police.’
Leader of Merton Council, Ross Garrod, said:  ‘Residents have questions that they rightly want answers to and a full investigation is underway by the relevant authorities.
‘This is such an inspiring community, today it has been torn apart by tragedy.’ 

A mother was crying in the street for her son as his bedroom was opposite the completely destroyed house, said one local.

The 25-year-old woman 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.’

She added that a ‘little girl’ and her dad escaped the destroyed house, and that the mum was rescued afterwards.

One resident, who lives on nearby Carisbrooke Road, said: ‘I heard the explosion at 7am, it was just the biggest bang you’ll ever hear.

‘So I went down the road to see what happened this morning and the whole house is gone, people living nearby said all their windows shook.

‘There was police, fire engines, a helicopter going around overhead. There’s not actually a fire from what I saw but you can still really smell gas, even two roads away where I am. They’re evacuating people from the houses nearby as they’re worried about another explosion.

‘There was a little girl of about 10 or 11 stood outside with a blanket bless her, god knows how she got out of that but she’s being treated for burns.

‘They were saying her older brother was still inside but he later got taken out OK I think.’

Dominic Francis, 41, and his partner heard a loud bang this morning, he said: ‘It is the third or fourth house explosion in the UK recently.

‘Something is wrong, I am worried it will happen to us.’

One Facebook user said: ‘I heard it whilst getting ready for work and thought it sounded like an explosion but was hoping I was wrong and that it was at a building site or something.’

Another added: ‘That was one loud bang thought a bomb had gone off’.

Police have evacuated and cordoned off the surrounding area following the explosion

Police have evacuated and cordoned off the surrounding area following the explosion

At this time, the cause of the fire and explosion is unknown, but a nearby resident said they could smell gas

At this time, the cause of the fire and explosion is unknown, but a nearby resident said they could smell gas

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: ‘This morning, alongside colleagues from London Fire Brigade, we attended an incident in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath.

‘We treated four people. One was discharged on scene and three others were taken to hospital. Sadly, a child was also pronounced dead at the scene.

‘All London Ambulance Service crews have now been stood down.’

Merton council said in a statement: ‘We are working with London Fire Brigade and the Metropolitan Police following a major incident at Galpins Road in Pollards Hill.

‘Emergency services are on site following a gas explosion at a residential property, at least one property has been destroyed. We are urging people to avoid the area.

‘Firefighters are currently carrying out systematic searches and working to make the scene safe.

‘An evacuation centre has been established at the New Horizons Centre.’

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said in a statement: ‘Six fire engines and around 40 firefighters have been called to a fire and explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath.

‘A terraced house has collapsed following an explosion.

‘The Brigade’s 999 Control Officers have taken 13 calls to the incident.

‘The Brigade was called at 0708. Fire crews from Norbury, Mitcham, West Norwood, Woodside and surrounding fire stations attended the scene.

‘The cause of the fire and explosion is not known at this time.’

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