Ten people have been killed, including two teenagers and a young girl, following an explosion at a petrol station in the village of Creeslough, Co Donegal, gardaí have confirmed.
Four men, three women, a teenage girl, a teenage boy and a girl of primary school age were killed in the blast.
Eight people, including children, have been brought to hospital for treatment. One of those was transferred to a hospital in Dublin and is in a critical condition. The other seven are understood to be in a stable condition.
Among the 10 victims who have been named so far were talented teenage rugby player Leona Harper; Jessica Gallagher, who was understood to have been in her early 20s; shop worker Martina Martin; Catherine O’Donnell and her son James; and Hughie Kelly. Four others, including a girl of primary school age, were also killed.
‘I am still alive but my life is different now’ - survivor of Creeslough explosion says his ‘heart is broken’
All of the 10 victims were from the wider Creeslough area.
The search operation has now concluded. Taoiseach Micheál Martin visited the scene on Saturday evening, urging the people of Ireland to support the community in the wake of the terrible tragedy. Mr Martin said a range of supports will be provided to the community and local schools.
The explosion happened shortly after 3pm on Friday. The blast destroyed the Applegreen service station on the outskirts of Creeslough and caused a section of an adjacent apartment block to collapse.
The Garda Technical Bureau has started an examination of the scene, with assistance from other agencies including the health and safety authority.
Postmortem examinations will take place over the coming days and Garda Family Liaison Officers have been appointed and are providing support and information to those impacted.
An incident room has been established at Milford Garda station and traffic diversions on the N56 at the scene of the explosion remain in place.
Gardaí believe the explosion was a “tragic accident” and say it is the largest number of civilian casualties in the region in decades.
Superintendent David Kelly of Milford Garda station said “we have to keep an open mind in how we investigate this but our information at this point in time is pointing towards a tragic accident.
“We are following certain investigative angles but for operational reasons, I am not going in to that.”
All the victims were from the Creeslough area.
The HSE said it was providing counselling support to members of the community and will remain in Creeslough over the coming days.
Each bereaved family will be offered contact with an support person and wider community support services will be available over the coming weeks and months as required. Services can be accessed by contacting a GP, the HSE said.
Rubble was being moved on to trailers and hauled from the scene earlier on Saturday. Two rescue workers were on a raised platform above the site of the explosion and a digger was working through the debris. Sniffer dogs were being used amid the rubble.
Local coffee shops including Huckleberry and The Coffee Pot opened their doors to emergency workers and locals. Locals stood in hushed tones beside emergency workers who looked weary.
The manager of Letterkenny University Hospital, Sean Murphy, said they were forced to discharge some patients on Friday to prepare for an expected rush of patients from the blast.
Mr Murphy confirmed eight people including children were admitted to the hospital.
“Yes, there were children admitted, and families waited in the hospital to hear news and to find out if their loved ones had been brought to the hospital.
“This morning we are thinking of all the families so tragically affected and I want to pay tribute to all those who help in any way and that includes the members of the public who were so understanding and also the staff at the hospital.
“All we can do is to offer our condolences.”
Gardaí requested that any road users intending to travel to Creeslough consider alternative routes as emergency services continue to deal with the ongoing incident.
Use the slider to see a before and after picture of the petrol station in Creeslough
The service station is owned by the local Lafferty family. Danny Martin Lafferty runs the shop while his sister Annette operates the post office adjacent to the service station. Neither were injured in the blast.
The complex, which sits at the entrance to the village coming from the Termon direction, houses a number of other small businesses, including a hairdressing salon.
The complex also contains several apartments above the service station’s shop which house a number of young families. Large parts of the facade of the upstairs apartment complex was ripped off during the explosion.
Local parish priest Fr John Joe Duffy said the heart had been torn out of Creeslough. Fr Duffy said the devastation at the service station was unlike anything that had been experienced locally.
“It’s so surreal and unreal. It’s just heartbreaking and terrible. It was like a fictional movie unfolding before our eyes,” he said.
Prayers were offered to the bereaved, to the injured, to the emergency service workers and to those in hospital undergoing procedures at local Mass on Saturday.
Kieran Gallagher, a local resident, said he heard an explosion about 3.30pm on Friday afternoon. “It sounded like a bomb going off. I knew something tragic had happened.”
Mr Gallagher said people from communities around Creeslough had visited the scene to help. “We have to be strong and tied together and help each other.”
A local man who lives 1km from the scene told The Irish Times he was thrown from his seat as he worked at his desk.
“I couldn’t believe the power of it and I didn’t know what had happened. We drove into town and it was just carnage.”
Presbyterian minister Rev Susan Moore said she felt “shocked and so sad” for the community and her thoughts were with those waiting for news of loved ones.
- Additional reporting PA