A child has been killed and three other people are in hospital with life-threatening injuries after a suspected gas blast destroyed a house.
The explosion, on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath in south London at about 07:10 BST, also damaged other houses. Residents say they had reported a strong gas smell two weeks ago and had felt dizzy in recent days.
Merton Council said the blast was caused by gas, describing it as a “major incident”. Four people were treated on Galpin’s Road while one person was discharged at the scene.
In a statement, the fire service said: “Sadly, a child was also pronounced dead at the scene. All LAS (London Ambulance Service) crews have now been stood down.” Two neighbours, Kutoya Kukanda, 50, and Delroy Simms, 62, said they helped rescue three children from the rubble.
Residents described the children who lived in the house as “lively” and “happy”.
“They were always mischievous, happy and bouncing around.”
About 40 properties have been evacuated as a precaution. A 50m cordon is in place.
People who were evacuated from Galpin’s Road in their pyjamas after the blast said their windows were shattered in the explosion.
In a statement, Merton Council said: “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 spokeswoman from gas distribution company SGN, which is the gas emergency service in the area, said: “Following the explosion in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, earlier today, our deepest sympathies are with the family of the child who has tragically died as well as those who have been injured.
“We’d like to reassure everyone that our engineers are working closely with the emergency services to establish the cause of the explosion. Given the ongoing police investigation, it is inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.”
LFB has said the cause of the explosion is unknown, and confirmed that crews would continue to work at the scene for the rest of the day and overnight. Mr Welch added that the fire brigade was not searching for anyone else following the explosion.
Responding to a question over residents stating they could smell gas over the last two weeks, Mr 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.”
Residents of a road where an explosion killed a child have described sensing a “time bomb” in the days beforehand due to the headache-inducing stench of gas in their homes. A girl, believed to be aged four, has died and three others were injured after a terrace house collapsed following the blast on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London, just after 7am on Monday.
Several residents have told the PA news agency they could smell gas for “at least two weeks” prior, with many experiencing headaches, dizziness and difficulty breathing. Two people said their neighbours had called gas engineers several days before the explosion.
Galpin’s Road resident, Amarjit Kaur, also shared images with PA of engineers working on the street in photographs dated July 31, but said she had not seen them since. A neighbour who lives opposite the incident, Delroy Simms, 62, said he could smell gas for “at least two weeks” before the blast, describing the situation as “a time bomb”.
Mr Simms, who has been evacuated to a nearby hotel with five members of his family, was hailed as a “hero” alongside Kutoya Kukanda, 50, after they rescued three children from the rubble.
The resident said he was with his neighbour when she called the gas company on Wednesday – five days before the explosion.
Local MP Siobhain McDonagh said she has written to gas company SGN “demanding answers” over the explosion in south London which killed a child on Monday.
The Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden told PA: “Clearly there are lots of questions that need answering: how was this allowed to happen, why weren’t people made aware, and why weren’t they evacuated before the terrible tragedy happened?
At the street, a police cordon has been extended several times to a total distance of about 200 metres due to “safety concerns”, officers have said.
A Galpin’s Road resident of 58 years, Bernadette, 87, said the girl who died in the explosion had a younger sister of around three, and two primary school-age brothers.
Bernadette, who did not give her surname, was still wearing the clothes she was evacuated in at around 7.30am on Monday after being unable to return to her home.
She said she last saw the youngster playing in her garden the day before the blast, and knows her grandmother.
Speaking alongside her grandson, Callum, 20, Bernadette told the PA news agency: “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.”
On the ground beside the original cordon, children have written touching tributes in white chalk, including the words “spread your wings” alongside drawings of hearts and rainbows.
Several bouquets and teddies have also been left at the scene.
Joanne Strickland, 48, laid flowers with her daughter, who was pushing her baby granddaughter in a buggy.
Ms Strickland said she could smell gas from her home about 300 metres away from Galpin’s Road, and had been making a mental note to call engineers just minutes before she heard the “almighty” explosion on Monday morning.
She told PA: “Yesterday morning I came out to work just before 7am, I could smell gas really strongly, and I thought I would call the gas people when I got back.
“As I got to the junction of Galpin’s Road, I just heard the almighty explosion.
“I was looking in my mirror and I could see people coming out their houses – but I kind of knew what happened.”
Ms Strickland said she felt especially saddened by the incident as a grandmother to a baby.
Mother-of-one, Dee Akomanyi, said she noticed a “really strong sweet and sulphury smell” on Sunday from her home several hundred metres away.
She said her neighbours had called engineers in the days before the blast and she felt unable to sleep in her house on Monday night due to worry.
Ms Akomanyi said: “It’s really scary, we couldn’t sleep last night just for the fact of thinking about we’re just down the road.
“They say to you to call when you smell gas, which is what we do – it’s really scary and I’ve lost a lot of faith in the services.”
About 100 evacuated residents have been housed in nearby hotels.