‘Happy’ and ‘beautiful’ girl, 4, named as tragic victim of Croydon gas explosion

A “happy” and “beautiful” girl who died after a gas explosion tore through her house sending debris flying through the air has been named as four-year-old Sahara Salman.

The suburban street in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, south London, was left devastated after the blast yesterday morning at around 7am.

A four-year-old girl was reported missing in the aftermath of the explosion, then the London Ambulance Service confirmed she had passed away yesterday afternoon.

The Metropolitan Police today confirmed that Sahara was killed in the blast.

A family friend said the tot was a “beautiful” and “cute” girl and that the family had been in touch with the gas company for a week before the blast.

Neighbours had also called the gas company over fears there could be a leak.

It is thought the family were in the house next door when the explosion went off and an aunt was said to have been in the loft at the time.

Six fire engines and around 40 firefighters were called to a fire on Galpin’s Road yesterday morning at about 7am.

A terraced house crumbled to rubble in the blast and several neighbouring properties were also damaged.

Despite the devastation, both parents of the little girl – named by locals as Sahara Salman – as well as two of her siblings were not seriously injured in the explosion.

Family friend Thoheed Maricar, 52, said the tragic young girl was one of four children – including an 11-year-old boy who was taken to hospital and another two kids who were relatively unharmed the blast.

Mr Maricar said: “Yesterday the mum was crying and she was in a horrible situation as she had just lost a baby.

“I was called up at around 9am yesterday and was told ‘uncle, there has been a big blast at a neighbour’s house’.

“The mum was saying ‘my third child is missing’ but she couldn’t really talk to me. She was crying and screaming.

“The girl is a beautiful, cute four-year-old. She was a happy girl. She played around a lot and was very active.

“I think she had started nursery but I don’t know that for sure.”

Her parents – thought to be Sana and Syed Muhammad Salman Ilyas – escaped from the blast unhurt, while their daughter passed away after being missing in the rubble and their oldest son was rushed to hospital.

Mr Maricar added: “The 11-year-old boy is injured but I don’t know his condition or if he is still in hospital.

“I feel very, very sad about what has happened. It is just a terrible situation.

“The family had tried to get hold of the gas company a couple of times last week and neighbours had been trying to get hold of the gas company.

“The mum is working in the NHS as a receptionist in a GP.”

Bunches of flowers and around 10 teddy bears were laid at the scene and tributes were scrawled in chalk across a nearby pavement in dedication to the little girl.

The devastating blast completely destroyed one terraced house and left debris scattered across the street after being sent flying into the air.

One resident, who did not want to be named, said: “‘The family [of Sahara] were so distressed, but they were still looking after people. One of the aunties bought food out.

“That family would have been so upset by things, but they were so selfless just bringing food for everyone.”

Tributes have been left for the youngster by neighbours as flowers, teddy bears, toys and letters have been left just outside the cordon that is still in place.

One letter left at the scene reads: “Dear neighbours I am so sorry for your loss.

“I’m sure she would have been an amazingly strong girl, but now she is in a better place.”

Chalk messages have been drawn on a pavement near the house – among them are the words “taken away too soon”, “R.I.P Angel, “lots of love” and “spread your wings”.

White teddy bears with red ribbons, a pink unicorn, a yellow duck, and a princess doll have also been piled on the side of the road, while hearts, rainbows and other messages of love are also lining the street.

Approximately 200 residents have been evacuated since the explosion and a 50-metre cordon was erected and then expanded by some 200 metres on Tuesday as there is still a strong smell of gas, a council official said.

Awais Zahir, 26, and his uncle ran out of their home after hearing a bang.

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 it 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 to 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.”

Charlie Cambell, 36, who lives four doors down from the blast, said he could smell gas for the last week or so.

Recalling the incident, he said he woke up around 5am this morning and was in the front room of his home when the inside of his window shattered.

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

He added he “can’t smell anything at all now,” as he has ” 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,” he added.

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

Council Leader Ross Garrod said yesterday: “We are all devastated by today’s news about the tragic death of a child as a result of the 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 they want answers to, and a full investigation is underway by the relevant authorities, led by the London Fire Brigade.”

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.”

Cllr Ross Garrod, leader of Merton Council, said today that the smell is still present at the scene and could take some days to clear the area.

Speaking outside the council offices this afternoon, he said: “This morning the Health and Safety Executive attended Galpins Road to begin investigations. SGN [gas company] also remained on site.

“The cordon was extended 200 meters as there was still a strong smell of gas and we understand the leak may take some days to stop. This was done to ensure the safety of residents.

“As a result there have been as additional 50 residents’ homes evacuated. So far there have been around 200 residents homes evacuated since the incident began.

“Out top priority is the safety of those residents and our support is in full operation.”

Cllr Garrod also slammed insurance companies for not helping provide basic accommodation for stricken families.

He added: “We are facing real challenges, some of these have been to do with insurance companies refusing basic accommodation for home owners. This is unacceptable.

“I want to recognise our fantastic community who have come together to help those in need.

“Hundreds have worked tirelessly to help and offer to provide clothing and food for the impacted residents who have been displaced.”