The south London hero who risked his life to rescue neighbours from the rubble following the terrifying explosion on a residential street in Thornton Heath last summer is among dozens of evacuated residents still living in hotel rooms six months later.
Delroy Simms has described the “torture” of not knowing when his family can return home to Galpins Road, after the blast which shattered the windows of their house and killed his neighbour, four-year-old Sahara Salman.
Siobhain McDonagh, the MP for Mitcham and Morden which includes the area affected by the blast, has criticised the government for offering “very little help” to residents – after she previously highlighted how Sahara’s mother was left sleeping on a floor 10 weeks after the tragedy.
More than 500 people were evacuated from Galpins Road on August 8 last year due to extensive damage to properties and safety fears caused by leaking gas mains.
According to the local authority, 29 families, including the Simms, today remain in temporary accommodation arranged for them by Merton Council.
Simms was the hero in his pyjamas, as he reacted by running out of his house to the scene of the blast and searching the rubble for survivors, not knowing whether there might be another explosion at any time.
Simms, 63, has told reporters of how he and his wife, their two adult sons and 15-year-old daughter remain stuck in a Croydon hotel, waiting for the gas board and local authorities to clear their home and other houses on Galpins Road for their safe return.
Simms said that he had been assured that their return home would be just “a few weeks” after the explosion last August. 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,” Simms told the PA News agency.
Simms said his family “hate it big time, especially my daughter”.
He said, “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 schoolwork.”
Simms said it was “disgusting” that the mother of Sahara Salman had been sleeping on the floor in temporary accommodation in the weeks after the explosion. Salman’s family is now living with relatives.
A Metropolitan Police investigation into the incident is ongoing, while most accept that the explosion was caused by a gas leak.
“Our house, after the blast, is not habitable,” Simms 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.”
He said that his insurers had tried to persuade the Simms to return home while remedial work was carried out.
Simms’ MP, McDonagh, says that despite assurances from the Department for Levelling Up, “there has actually been very little help given by the government to the local council”.
Three houses on Galpins Road were completely destroyed by the blast, with many more needing “significant building work”, according to Merton. The investigation into the cause resulted in a cordon being placed around 48 homes until October 28.
The costs to the council currently exceed £2.5million, including support for the residents throughout the whole six-month period.
A Merton 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.”
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This is sombre reading. We need a result from the Met Police. I live nearby, and SGN (responsible for gas infrastructure) tell me that they are working their way up Galpins Road, a key action being a robot moving along inside the very large gas main in the road, sealing the joints. They plan to renew more individual supplies to houses.