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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 12:11 GMT
Inquiry after girl's blast death
Stephanie Hammacott
Stephanie brightened lives with her loving personality, said her school
Investigators are trying to establish the cause of a gas explosion at a house in Devon that left a nine-year-old girl dead and four other people injured.

Stephanie Hammacott was fatally injured when a wall blew out as she walked past the house in Southway in Plymouth.

Well-wishers have placed tributes to Stephanie at the scene and hundreds of messages of sympathy have been left on a local newspaper's website.

Police said work at the site had been hampered by the presence of asbestos.

Stephanie was on her way to breakfast club at Southway Primary School with her mother at about 0800 GMT on Tuesday when the wall blew out, trapping her under the rubble. She died in hospital.

'Still smouldering'

Her 38-year-old mother received minor injuries.

Group Commander Malcolm Carmichael, of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue, said: "Clearly one of problems we've got is the unstable nature of the building.

"We are going to have to work our way very carefully through that without disturbing too much of the evidence which would hamper the investigation.

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

"We've still got a smouldering building and a thorough investigation to complete."

He said the house had been "almost completely destroyed" by the blast.

Two occupants of the Bulteel Gardens house suffered smoke inhalation and one of them, an elderly woman, is believed to still be in the city's Derriford Hospital.

A passer-by was also slightly injured in the explosion.

Eyewitnesses spoke of flames leaping into the air and smoke billowing across the area, where rubble from the blast was strewn up to 50ft (15m) away.

People living in 12 houses in the surrounding area were not allowed to go back to their homes overnight.

The houses have been boarded up and the residents were offered alternative accommodation.

Tributes to Stephanie Hannacott
Well-wishers have begun to leave tributes at the scene

Officers said they had been told people could smell gas in the area prior to the explosion.

Counsellors from the council's Education Psychology Service were at Stephanie's school all day on Tuesday offering their support, along with parent support advisers.

The school's head teacher Mark Lees said Stephanie, who had been at the school since she was aged three, was a "delightful" girl.

"We are all in shock. She was an absolutely delightful girl, she cared for people and worked hard and will be greatly missed."

Plymouth City Council said the house was one of its properties and confirmed the property had undergone a problem-free maintenance check in June.

Wales and West Utilities said it was working alongside emergency services and the Health and Safety Executive as part of the investigation.

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



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