Residents suffer 'weeks of hell' following 'slow' progress in probe over gas explosions in Whale Island on New Year's Day

RESIDENTS in a street that saw massive gas explosions on New Year’s Day have suffered ‘weeks of hell’ with progress ‘slow’.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 4:13 pm

Those living in Whale Island Way, Stamshaw, said they were just ‘seconds away’ from death before they were evacuated to nearby HMS Excellent after blasts left three houses in ruins.

Miraculously no one was killed or severely injured despite debris being catapulted across the area.

Michael McCormick, 52, his 45-year-old wife, Montse, and their son Mark, 19, whose privately owned house exploded, were put into a nearby Travelodge along with other neighbours whose homes were damaged by the blast.

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The destroyed home in Whale Island Way in Stamshaw, Portsmouth, on January 3 after a New Year's Day suspected gas explosion. Picture: Ben Fishwick

They have since been moved into rented accommodation in Southsea, which their insurance company is paying for, while the probe is carried out.

Michael said: ‘Things are going a bit slow (with the investigation) but they are starting to pick up the pace now. They are still trying to find out who is at fault. You have to accept the fact they need to find out what happened. I’d rather they were sure (about what happened) than not.

‘They have managed to get the pipework out the house now which is being investigated.

‘We will be going back when the house is rebuilt, we like the neighbourhood. We’re waiting for the chartered surveyor to go in. It will be nice to see some work.’

Police and fire services at the scene at Whale Island Way, Portsmouth, last Friday. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Michael revealed things were a ‘blur’ and a ‘struggle’ in the aftermath of the explosions but said the family were in a better place now – especially after finding their cat Vladimir who was not seen for days after the blast, leaving the family fearing the worst. ‘He has been coming on leaps and bounds,’ he said. ‘It was miraculous to find him.’

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The incident is still being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). ‘Our investigation is ongoing and we are unable to comment further at this time,’ a spokesman said.

The News was advised to ‘check in again in the coming months’ – suggesting the outcome of the investigation is still some time away.

The blasts also saw council tenants supported by Portsmouth City Council after having their lives turned upside down.

Tony Wilson, 69, who lives two doors away from the McCormicks’ house, said they are all still in the dark and have not been offered support despite numerous subsequent problems.

‘We’ve had all the pavements being excavated, parking banned and sniffer tests every day,’ he said. ‘No one is saying anything about who is to blame.

‘Even the bridge into HMS Excellent has been cordoned off.’

The resident also said rats had moved into the empty houses and revealed his home insurance had rocketed by ‘300 per cent’ despite not making a claim.

‘Silence is king. Mental stress and wellbeing for us has been totally ignored and we are in desperate need of some guidance as to moving away from this ongoing disaster zone,’ Mr Wilson said.

‘No help has been offered by anyone. It has been weeks of hell.’

Mr Wilson said the incident had been a ‘life-changing disaster experience’ before accusing authorities of ‘a lack of understanding’ for the ‘mental stress’ that is ongoing.

The resident has also lodged a Freedom of Information request with HSE in an attempt to uncover what is happening. But this was refused on the grounds it is not in the public interest to disclose details while the investigation is ongoing.

Martyn Wayland, principal inspector of the HSE, said in an email to Mr Wilson last month: ‘Inspectors have been in contact with the victims, the residents of number 127. HSE has also been in contact with the residents of number 129.

‘HSE are also in regular contact with SGN, the operator of the gas network in the area responsible for its safe operation and with the local authority and insurers of the affected properties.

‘In order to progress our investigation access to the property is required, which requires substantial work to make safe. Once this has been confirmed investigation work will take place on site.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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