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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 19:29 GMT
Girl, nine, dies in house blast
Stephanie Hammacott
Stephanie brightened lives with her loving personality said her school
A nine-year-old girl has died and four other people have been injured in a gas explosion at a house in Devon.

Stephanie Hammacott was fatally injured when a wall blew out as she walked to school with her mother in Plymouth. Her mother suffered minor injuries.

Two elderly occupants of the Bulteel Gardens house suffered smoke inhalation and a passer-by was slightly injured.

Some nearby residents have not been allowed to go back to their homes as investigations continue.

Stephanie was on her way to breakfast club at Southway Primary School with her mother when the wall blew out, trapping her under the rubble.

The school said in a statement: "Stephanie was a popular and caring pupil who brightened up the lives of children and adults alike with her loving personality.

"We will miss her terribly and the school extends its sincerest condolences to her family."

Counsellors have been at the school all day offering support to pupils.

Scene of Southway house explosion
Rubble from the house was blown up to 15m

She was taken to Derriford Hospital where she later died as a result of serious injuries.

An elderly woman who was in the house is the only casualty still in hospital.

Residents of eight houses in Bulteel Gardens have been offered alternative accommodation or are staying with friends or family while investigations by fire officers and gas officials continue into the explosion.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service group commander Malcolm Carmichael said the house had been "almost completely destroyed" by the blast and that it showed how dangerous a gas leak could be.

He said: "I've been involved in gas explosions before and, invariably, they do cause a high amount of damage to the property. This follows that same pattern."

He later added that, judging from the property, it seemed the explosion took place inside the house.

Fireball and flames

The South West Ambulance Service said the building and the immediate surrounding area were thought to be unsafe.

Three adjoining properties were unoccupied at the time of the blast.

Gas and electrical engineers were called, and police said gas detection equipment was at the scene and the area was under constant monitoring.

Fire investigators were also working with police scene of crime officers at the property.

Neighbours reported hearing a dull thud and then seeing a fireball and flames leaping into the sky.

Rubble was strewn up to 15m (50ft) away from the property.

Clare Rogers, who runs the nearby Falstaff pub, said: "All I know was that there was a lot of smoke coming out the back of the bungalows, then it started getting worse and worse.

"The flames were getting higher and then I heard all the sirens going off."

Leon Hawking and Jeanette Langdon, who live in the house next door, were called home from work by relatives who had seen what happened.

Mr Hawking said: "We've had a look, and the next door neighbours' is gone, basically. It's all collapsed in.

Fire at Southway house
The house was on fire for some time after the explosion

"You can tell ours is gone as well. We're not allowed back."

Police said they were told that people could smell gas in the area prior to the explosion.

Plymouth City Council said the house was one of its properties and that it had officers at the scene trying to assist the emergency services.

The council said that the property had undergone a maintenance check in June and no problems were found.

Wales and West Utilities said that an investigation into the explosion's cause was under way with emergency services and the Health and Safety Executive.

It added that it received no reports of the smell of gas prior to the explosion.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Emergency services at the scene of the blast



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