Donegal explosion: Death toll rises to 10 including two teenagers and a young child

The scene of the explosion at the petrol station in Co Donegal. Photograph : Brian McDaid
Eight people, including children, brought to hospital as emergency workers search through rubble for missing people

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.

Search and rescue efforts are continuing, however a Garda spokesperson said they are not expecting any further casualties.

“Emergency services continue a search and recovery operation at the site this afternoon but based on the information available to An Garda Siochana at this time it is not expected that there will be any further casualties located and there are no outstanding reports of unaccounted for persons,” he told a press conference in Donegal.

Search and recovery operations continue as emergency services work through the rubble of the damaged apartment block.

Rubble was being moved on to trailers and hauled from the scene. 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 coffees shop including Huckleberry and The Coffee Pot opened their doors to emergency workers and locals. Locals sat in hushed tones beside emergency workers who looked weary on Saturday.

The incident occurred shortly after 3pm on Friday. The blast destroyed the service station and a section of an apartment block resulting in a major collapse at the Applegreen garage on the outskirts of Creeslough.

Having announced three fatalities on Friday, An Garda Siochana, confirmed a further six deaths in a statement on Saturday morning.

The manager of Letterkenny University Hospital, Sean Murphy, said how 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 understand and also the staff at the hospital.

“All we can do is to offer our condolences.”

An Garda Síochána said in a statement on Friday night that emergency services would remain at the scene on the N56 at Creeslough, County Donegal.

“This emergency response has been led by the Donegal County Council Fire Service with assistance by An Garda Síochána, the National Ambulance Service, Irish Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Rescue 118 Helicopter, Irish Air Corps Medivac 112, Northern Ireland Ambulance HEMS, Irish Community Air Ambulance (Ground Crew), Northern Ireland Urban Search and Rescue, Meavagh Fire Service, Donegal Mountain Rescue, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service HART team (Hazardous Area Response Team) and the Donegal County Council Civil Defence.

“This continues to be an ongoing operation and An Garda Síochána are not in a position to provide further information on casualties at this time.”

An Garda Síochána requested that any road users intending to travel to the Creeslough area for any reason consider alternative routes as emergency services continue to deal with the ongoing incident.

On Friday night a coast guard helicopter airlifted a number of those who were injured in the blast from Letterkenny University Hospital to Dublin.

Northern Ireland’s air ambulance was also deployed, as were fire crews and ground ambulances from the region.

Letterkenny hospital appealed to the public not to attend its emergency department unless it was urgent.

Use the slider to see a before and after picture of the petrol station in Creeslough

Digging equipment was being used to sift through the rubble at the scene and night-lights put in place to facilitate an overnight search.

An eyewitness at the scene who spoke to The Irish Times described a covered body being taken from the site of the blast, while another person had significant burn injuries.

An uninjured person was seen being taken down by ladder from the upstairs of the apartment block.

A local garda was seen comforting a woman in tears as she was led towards the scene.

Among those gathered at the scene cordon on Friday evening were relatives of people feared to have been in the station at the time of the explosion.

The force of the blast was so strong that it shattered windows in a number of nearby buildings.

The service station is owned by the local Lafferty family. Danny Martin Lafferty runs the shop while his sister Annette operates the post office just 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.

Gardaí set up a roadblock to keep people away from the scene for fear of any further explosions.

Local parish priest Fr John Joe Duffy said the heart had been torn out of Creeslough. Fr Duffy said the devastation at the Applegreen Service Station was nothing that anybody locally had every experienced before.

“I am just worried as the days and weeks unfold. It’s so surreal and unreal. It’s just heartbreaking and terrible. It was like a fictional movie unfolding before our eyes,” he said. “Nobody expected something like this. It has broken the heart of our community.”

Fr Duffy said he had spoken with the families who had lost loved ones in the tragedy. He paid tribute to all those who helped in any way, especially the emergency services who remain at the scene.

Special prayers were offered for the bereaved, the injured, and the emergency service workers and  those in hospital undergoing procedures at Mass in the village church on Saturday.

Among those who were in the packed congregation at the Mass was the chairman of the local St Michael’s GAA Club, Liam McElhinney.

Mr McElhinney said how he was in the Applegreen Service Station just a half an hour before the horrific explosion.

“I had left the shop at 2.30. It could easily have been me. It just wasn’t my time, I suppose,” he said.

“It is such a busy hub and it’s in shatters. We expect to see these type of things in other places, but not in our wee community in Creeslough. You see things like this on TV and you just don’t expect it to come to your own door.

“We are in total shock. It will take days, weeks and maybe years to recover from this. The mood is very sombre, especially with young people involved. It is a very sad day for the community.

“Families who have been involved in the club. It’s such a sad day for the club and for the community.”

He said there had been people selling lotto tickets for a local sports club who always sat outside the service station on a Friday afternoon but they had just left minutes before the explosion.

“The worst thing is the waiting. We, as a community, will rally around them. We will do everything in our power to make things better for them,” he said.

The Bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian, said he witnessed workmen trying to rescue people from the rubble. “It is shocking beyond words. We want to be here for the people who may get terrible news tonight.”

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 local people. “We have to be strong and tied together and help each other.”

Presbyterian minister the 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.

Some people caught up in the blast have been able to make contact with family and friends using their mobile phones and the focus is on reaching them as quickly and as safely as possible.

Sinn Féin TD and local representative Pearse Doherty, whose family has Glasgow connections, was at the scene on Friday night and he described it as “absolutely appalling”.

“This is the only shop in the village,” Mr Doherty told The Irish Times. “But it is not just a shop, it is also the post office, the deli and the hairdressers. And the explosion happened shortly after 3pm when children had just come out of school and it is pension day. This is a very busy spot.”

Former minister for education and Fine Gael deputy Joe McHugh joined those at the scene of the tragedy on Friday evening. Mr McHugh, who lives in nearby Carrigart, said it was simply surreal what had happened.

He said those who were at the scene were just numb. As specialist recovery workers sifted through the wreckage of the building, Mr McHugh said it was simply a “waiting game”.

“I wanted just to be here with those people and offer them my support. There is a numbness here and people are simply in a state of shock. It’s a waiting game now,” he said.

In a post on Twitter, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar wrote: “Terrible news from Donegal tonight. Our thoughts are with all those affected by the tragic events and with the emergency services responding.”

One local man who lives just 1km from the scene and spoke to The Irish Times said 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.

In an initial statement Applegreen said it was aware of a “serious incident at its dealer operated location” in Creeslough adding on that emergency services remained at the scene and continued to deal with the unfolding situation.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times

One comment

  1. was apartment above the service station unlit gas cooker that caused explosion. they do not have Gas Boilers in Donegal yet.

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