Our house was destroyed in explosion and hotel dog row left us sleeping in car

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A mum and daughter were left with nowhere to sleep after a raging fire destroyed their home in east London.

An "almighty bang" shook the neighbourhoods of Bethnal Green and Shoreditch as a huge explosion blew out one side of Bentworth Court and set the eight-storey tower block ablaze last Thursday (August 4).

Gillian Smith was in a nearby McDonald's when she got a call from her sister-in-law saying her house was up in flames with her two beloved pets – seven-month-old labradoodle Zuma and cat Princess – still inside.

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She rushed back and was told to wait in St Matthew's Church, where she was able to declare herself safe, MyLondon reports.

Gillian and her daughter Sarah-Drew, who joined her after returning from a trip to Chessington Zoo, endured an agonising wait for the animals in the dead of night – where Gillian claims they were left "freezing" with no blankets and dressed in summer clothes.

When Gillian told firefighters her dog "could be laying there dead", they went in to rescue the pets and emerged an hour later with Zuma, but were unable to find Princess the cat.

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Satisfied that Princess was probably safe, she went to a Tower Hamlets Homes officer around 1am (August 5) to inquire about temporary accommodation that could take the family in with a pet.

She said: "I was informed that night I would not be given emergency accommodation if I could not find somewhere for the dog.

"I said 'me and my daughter will have to sleep in the car'.

"[The officer] said 'you will have to make arrangements and before you leave, give your name and number to the police officer'. Then she just walked away."

The three spent the night in the car, where they struggled to sleep.

Gillian was finally put into a Holiday Inn in Whitechapel for two nights on Friday, while her daughter, 22, agreed to take the dog to her home in Dagenham until Sunday – despite rules against pets in the building.

On Sunday morning, after many calls by Gillian, she was told her current room in Travel Lodge Dagenham, with space for Zuma, was ready.

She also claimed she had to wear the same set of clothes for a whopping six days until she got her first emergency cash payment of £200 on Tuesday. She expects to get more cash this week.

Tower Hamlets Homes sent a letter to residents this week, explaining their homes would be inaccessible until a safety assessment was done and repairs carried out. They were unable to provide a timescale.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson told MyLondon: "Food, blankets and emergency assistance were provided to residents directly affected by the fire at Bentworth Court on Thursday evening from a central triage site close by.

"We are sorry that Ms Smith did not receive immediate assistance, however, our officers made contact with her the following day and arranged accommodation for her and her daughter.

"Although our officers were able to secure a pet-friendly hotel for one family, they were unable to secure a second pet-friendly room for Ms Smith at such short notice.

"Officers from Tower Hamlets Homes have remained in regular contact and on Sunday they supported Ms Smith, her daughter and her dog to move into a pet-friendly hotel.

"Ms Smith has received backdated emergency payments and is being fully supported by officers from Tower Hamlets Homes."


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  • Family
  • Fire
  • London

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