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Residents from scene of fatal explosion still in hotels six months later

The scene in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London (PA)
The scene in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London (PA)

A “hero” who risked his life to rescue children in the aftermath of a fatal explosion in south London is among dozens of evacuated residents still living in a hotel six months later.

Delroy Simms, 63, has described the “torture” of not knowing when his family can return home half a year on from the blast which shattered the windows of their house and killed his neighbour, four-year-old Sahara Salman.

Their local MP, Siobhain McDonagh, has criticised the Government for offering “very little help” to residents – after she previously highlighted how Sahara’s mother was left sleeping on the floor 10 weeks after the tragedy.

More than 500 people were evacuated from Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath on August 8 last year due to extensive damage to properties and safety fears, and residents have said “around eight families” remain in hotels.

Customer services worker Mr Simms was hailed as a “hero” by his neighbours after he risked his life to rescue children from the rubble while still wearing his pyjamas in the immediate aftermath of the blast.

Half a year later, he is living in a Croydon hotel bedroom with his wife, while their two adult sons and 15-year-old daughter are staying in separate rooms.

Thornton Heath incident
Delroy Simms (left) and Kutoya Kukanda were described as ‘heroes’ by their neighbours after they rescued children from the rubble after the blast in Galpin’s Road (Laura Parnaby/PA)

Mr Simms told the PA news agency that he expected to be home within “a few weeks” after the blast, but his family have repeatedly been told “just one more week” by insurers ever since.

“It’s almost been torture, wanting to go home and you can’t,” he said.

“Day in, day out, living in one room – it’s horrible. Going to work is how I keep my sanity.

“I’m just missing my home, more than anything else. Although I’m in a hotel, it feels like I haven’t got one.

“It’s not the fault of the hotel – they’ve tried their best to accommodate us, but they’re a business hotel so there’s people coming and going constantly, while we’re still upstairs in our little box.”

Asked how his family are coping, Mr Simms said: “They hate it big time, especially my daughter.

“We’re trying our best to make it easy for her, because she’s got the stress of doing her GCSEs, so she’s under a lot of pressure with her school work.”

Mr Simms said he feels “really bad” for Sahara’s family, adding it was “disgusting” that her mother had been sleeping on the floor in temporary accommodation in the weeks after the explosion.

Sahara’s family are now living with relatives and they are still waiting for answers about what caused the explosion, as a Metropolitan Police investigation into the tragedy remains ongoing.

Mr Simms said not knowing “who was to blame for the blast” is also holding up work on damaged properties like his own because insurers are “not willing to throw money at anything”.

“They wanted us to go back into our property, believe it or not, and do the work around us, but our house, after the blast, is not habitable,” he said.

“There’s glass all over the house and it stinks to high heaven because of all the food that was left in the fridge.”

Sahara Salman death
Sahara Salman, four, was killed in the explosion (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Labour MP Ms McDonagh, who represents Mitcham and Morden, said the financial burden of helping residents affected by the blast has largely been left on the local council.

She told PA: “In spite of assurances in the debate I got in the House of Commons, there has actually been very little help given by the Government to the local council.

“When the explosion happened, it was the council that tried to place 500 people overnight in temporary accommodation.

“It’s an enormous task and I think the Government should have a bigger role to play.”

She added that Sahara’s family will not “have any sort of closure” until the police investigation has been completed.

“It was devastating… I imagine it’s like being in suspended animation,” she said.

“I know that the police are doing a painstaking investigation and obviously that’s important, but I would urge them to come to a conclusion as quickly as they can.”

Ms McDonagh said she hopes residents still living in hotels “don’t feel abandoned” and urged anyone who feels unhappy with their situation to contact her constituency office.

Thornton Heath incident
Engineers in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, in August 2022 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Merton Council has said it is “working closely with every family to help them into long-term accommodation”, and that there are currently 29 households living in temporary accommodation.

It said it expects 12 of these to have returned home by the end of February.

Three houses were completely destroyed by the blast, with many more needing “significant building work”, while the investigation into the cause resulted in a cordon being placed around 48 homes until October 28.

The costs to the council currently exceed £2.5 million, including support for the residents throughout the whole six-month period.

A council spokesman said: “The severe damage caused to some homes, as well as the area being cordoned off until late October during the police investigation, has meant that some families are still unable to return home, and in some cases residents have been unable to start insurance claims as their homes remained cordoned off.

“It may be some time before they are able to go home because of the major works required, and some have chosen not to return home, or else a return to their property will not be possible given the scale of the damage.

“We are working closely with every family to help them into long-term accommodation and continue to have a dedicated team supporting all those affected.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been contacted for comment.