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700 people evacuated from flats after gas leak declared ‘major incident’

Written by on 6 January 2021

700 people have been evacuated from their flats after a gas leak in West Sussex was declared a “major incident” by police.

The incident took place at a large block of flats in Melton Mount Avenue, Crawley, at 12.21am on Wednesday, with all residents moved into temporary accommodation, Sussex Police said.

Resident Leah Hicklin said she was evacuated at 1.30am but said that others were still being led from the building at 4am.

She told the BBC: “We thought it was only something minor until they started evacuating the minor floors and then I was the top floor and I could smell gas.

“So they slowly but surely evacuated every single one of us. Some are in hotels, some are at family, some people really didn’t know where they were going. They’ve left pets behind and whatnot.”

Sussex Police Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Rayland said: “This is an ongoing incident which has caused huge disruption to hundreds of people on a cold January morning…

“We are working hard to ensure this is dealt with as soon as possible to enable everyone to return home, however this may take several hours yet.

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“In the meantime, we are urging everyone to stay away from the area to allow the responding agencies to focus on resolving the incident to allow residents to return home.”

The exact cause of the leak is “yet to be determined”, but it not believed to be “criminal”, he added.

A Sussex Police spokesman said that steps were taken to ensure social distancing while evacuating the residents, including providing face masks and escorting single households at a time.

A joint statement from West Sussex County Council and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said six fire engines and an Incident Command Unit were sent to the site.

Tina Belben, ward councillor for Crawley Borough Council, said: “The residents are tired and a little bit shocked but all very relieved that they are OK.

“They are in hotels in Crawley and the leak has now been fixed but the professionals want to make sure the building is safe to occupy before they let people back in.

“They did try to get everybody out as quickly as possible but they could not do what we would usually do and open up a leisure centre to put everyone in because of the coronavirus so there was a slight delay in getting everyone out, but they did a wonderful job.”