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Residents ‘nervous’ about returning to homes after fatal gas explosion

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Residents evacuated from the site of a fatal gas explosion in south London have said they are relieved but “nervous” to return to their homes after a week.

Relatively few families appeared to be heading back to Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, by early afternoon on Wednesday, with others said to be wary following the blast last week which killed four-year-old Sahara Salman.

A police cordon further up the street means hundreds of locals are still being kept away, with Merton Council admitting it does not know when everyone will be able to return.

Nick Hillman, a teacher, said it was “fantastic” to come home but felt sorry for those who were still waiting for an all-clear.

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Residents Rose and Kes Bala dispose of spoiled food as they return to their home in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath (photo: PA)

“We’re very, very conscious of what other people have to go through,” he told the PA news agency after unpacking his car.

“Many families really won’t be back for months, I don’t imagine. And they’re big families with kids stuck in hotels.”

Mr Hillman was one of a number of residents who headed back to their homes laden with suitcases and plastic bags.

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However, only a quarter of the 200 households evacuated on Tuesday last week have been allowed to return.

Shifting the police cordon further up Galpin’s Road exposed a memorial to Sahara, who died when the explosion destroyed a terraced house in the street.

Your Local Guardian: A resident is escorted by a police officer in Galpin's Road in Thornton Heath (photo: PA)A resident is escorted by a police officer in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath (photo: PA)

Among the tributes were flowers, wilted in the August heat, and teddy bears – one of which had “Sahara” and love hearts drawn on in green ink.

A local woman, who gave her name as Valerie, was unsure about re-entering her house despite assurances by SGN, the gas company.

She said: “You just don’t know what to really expect – you just still have that little thought that says ‘oh my God, I wonder is it safe? I wonder, is there more to come?’ “But you’ve just got to hope for the best and hope that it doesn’t happen again.”

SGN has faced community anger since the explosion, with some claiming the company has “blood on its hands” and failed to respond to reports of gas leaks.

Chief executive Mark Wild, who walked along the street meeting residents, said he was sympathetic to local scepticism.

“This is a safe situation, but I could understand why customers and residents would be lacking trust,” he said.

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“If I were in their shoes, I might feel exactly the same way. It’s our job to give people confidence.”

Mr Wild, who assumed his role at SGN on Monday this week, insisted he had “absolutely no” regrets about taking the job just days after the explosion.

A number of residents were seen emptying out the contents of their kitchens into rubbish bags after being forced to leave food behind during the evacuation.

Rose Bala, who works as a glassblower, spent 10 minutes struggling to fit three weeks’ worth of ruined supplies into a small waste bin outside her home.

Asked on her reaction to returning home from a Travelodge, she said: “Relief and disgust… relief to be home and disgust at the smell.”

Valerie, preparing to empty out her three freezers, said: “I’ve stocked up for months – it’s inconvenient but what can you do?

“At the end of the day we are lucky we’re still alive.”

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