• Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Ireland: Ten dead after Donegal petrol station explosion

Ten people have died after a huge explosion at a petrol station in the Republic of Ireland.

Four men, three women, a teenage boy and girl and a younger girl were killed, said gardaí (Irish police).

The blast happened at the Applegreen service station in the County Donegal village of Creeslough on Friday.

It destroyed the building and a section of an apartment block, with police saying the evidence gathered so far suggested it was a tragic accident.

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Micheál Martin described the explosion as an “enormous trauma”.

“The entire nation is shocked at what has happened,” he said during a visit to the scene on Saturday evening.

Seven people who were hurt are in a stable condition in hospital in nearby Letterkenny.

Another person is critically ill in the burns unit of a hospital in Dublin.

Early on Saturday evening An Garda Síochána (the Irish police force) said a search and rescue operation had ended with no more causalities found.

Emergency service crews from Northern Ireland had been sent across the border to help their Irish counterparts deal with the aftermath of the blast.

The taoiseach described the rescue mission as a demonstration of “solidarity and community values”.

‘Tsunami of grief’

Creeslough is a small village in the north-west of Ireland, about 15 miles (24km) from Letterkenny and 30 miles (48km) from the border with Northern Ireland.

It has a population of about 400 people.

Mass was held in the village church on Saturday morning, during which Father John Joe Duffy told the congregation their community had been hit by “a tsunami of grief”.

Catholic Bishop Alan McGuckian described Friday as the “darkest day in Donegal”.

“I have witnessed at first hand the immediate reaction of the local community to the tragedy who, in their bravery, took risks at the site to help others even to the detriment of their own safety,” he said.

At a service of remembrance on Saturday night he lit a candle for each of the victims of the explosion.

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss sent her sympathy to the Donegal community “as they come together in their moment of grief”, while Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer praised people who had “bravely [rushed] to the scene to help”.

A tragedy on this scale is really something this tight-knit rural community could never have imagined.

There is such a sense of disbelief in Creeslough.

All that is left of the shop and the flats above is a crumpled mess of rubble.

The emergency services worked through the night.

At times they asked for complete silence around them while they listened for signs of anyone trapped.

The cause of the explosion is still not known, but police are working on the theory it was perhaps a gas explosion.

Locals say it happened at a time when the shop would have been busy because local schools had just finished for the day.

Dr Paul Stewart, who has been a GP in Creeslough for 23 years, said the explosion reminded him of what he had witnessed growing up in Belfast during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

“Three floors in the centre of the building just collapsed on those poor people who were maybe in buying a paper or getting a packet of crisps,” he said.

“For me the work is beginning – it’s mainly psychological help that people need now… it takes time and patience.”

Pearse Doherty, a Sinn Féin politician who represents the area, said the village “will be forever changed”.

“There are many people in this community that will see wakes and funerals… and that trauma is going to last a long time,” he said.

Liam McElhinney, chairman of the Naomh Micheál Gaelic Athletic Association club in Creeslough, said it would “take a long time to get over” what had happened.

“Some of the people that have died are known personally by myself and it’s very hard to watch,” he said.

“It could have been any of us… it’s a massive thing to happen in our community.”