At least three people have died in an explosion at a service station in Ireland.
Irish police confirmed the three fatalities as search efforts continued at the site of the blast in Creeslough, Co Donegal for others feared missing following the devastating blast on Friday afternoon.
The Applegreen service station and surrounding buildings sustained extensive damage in the incident.
The major emergency response operation involving first responders from both sides of the Irish border was ongoing late on Friday night.
In a statement, the Irish police force, An Garda Siochana, said: “At this time, An Garda Siochana can confirm there has been three fatalities as a result of this serious incident.
Emergency services at the scene at Applegreen service station located in the village of Creeslough in Co Donegal where multiple injuries have been reported after an explosion. Picture date: Friday October 7, 2022. Nina Gabel
“This continues to be an ongoing operation and An Garda Siochana are not in a position to provide further information on casualties at this time.”
Among those gathered at the scene cordon on Friday night were relatives of people believed to have been in the buildings at the time.
Sniffer dogs were being used amid the rubble.
A crowd of around 30 local people were gathered behind the Garda cordon and watched on in hushed silence.
Irish premier Micheal Martin said his thoughts and prayers were with the entire community of Creeslough.
“Thinking too of all the emergency services, from across the north-west and NI working in very traumatic situation,” he tweeted.
Local priest John Joe Duffy said the community was “numb and devastated”.
“It’s very much looking at the unknown at this time, and we’re just broken-hearted, everyone is broken-hearted, we’re lost for words,” Fr Duffy told the PA news agency.
“What I’m appealing for is for the prayers of the people across this county and across the country, to pray for us, to help us and to give us strength to get through these difficult hours and difficult days that may lay ahead.”
Donegal TD Joe McHugh said friends and families were going through a very difficult waiting period.
Emergency services at the scene at Applegreen service station located in the village of Creeslough in Co Donegal where multiple injuries have been reported after an explosion. Picture date: Friday October 7, 2022. Jonathan McCambridge
“We’re just waiting here, my sympathies and thoughts are with a lot of families here and their friends and loved ones, there is a very difficult waiting period now,” he told PA.
“People have pulled together and emergency services are there and doing their work, working carefully through this very, very difficult time.
“People are stunned, it’s very surreal, very difficult to put it into words. Just thinking of this very closely knit community that are still clinging on to hope, but they know that it’s going to be a difficult time ahead.”
Fellow TD Pearse Doherty said that people were still trapped in the building on Friday evening as the emergency services worked to remove the rubble from the area.
Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue said he was thinking of all those affected by the “awful” incident.
The Donegal TD said: “Thinking of the emergency services personnel involved this evening too.”
Multiple emergency service vehicles remained at the scene on Friday night while a Coastguard helicopter airlifted some of those who were injured in the blast from Letterkenny University Hospital to Dublin.
The Letterkenny hospital appealed to the public not to attend its emergency department unless it was urgent.
The hospital initiated its major emergency standby protocol earlier on Friday. It stood down the protocol late on Friday night.
In a statement, the hospital said: “The hospital continues to treat those injured in the incident at Creeslough, Co Donegal and remains on hand to provide all necessary medical assistance required.”
Applegreen said in a statement that it was “aware of a serious incident at its dealer-operated location at Creeslough”.
“The thoughts and prayers of everyone here at Applegreen are with all of those who have been affected,” it stated.
Ireland’s deputy premier Leo Varadkar described the incident as “tragic”.
In a post on Twitter, Mr Varadkar wrote: “Terrible news from Donegal tonight.
Emergency services at the scene at Applegreen service station located in the village of Creeslough in Co Donegal where multiple injuries have been reported after a nexplosion. Picture date: Friday October 7, 2022. Nina Gabel
“Our thoughts are with all those affected by the tragic events and with the emergency services responding.”
Nina Gabel, 35, described distressing scenes at the cordon on Friday evening.
“There was one woman who didn’t know where her daughter was and she was very upset,” she told PA.
“There are emergency services everywhere, there were so many gardai and fire engines.
“What looked like local farmers’ tractors were helping to dig out the rubble.”
Ambulances and fire crews from across the border in Northern Ireland have deployed to the area to assist with the emergency response.
A local hotel stopped taking bookings from members of the public to ensure all spare rooms were held for first responders.
Mr Doherty said it was after 3pm when the “devastating” and “massive” explosion took place that could be heard from miles around.
“This is something that’s your worst nightmare. This is a quiet village, a very close-knit village, this is the only shop in the town,” he told RTE news.
“It ripped right through this building, and this was a very busy location at that point in time.
“Three o’clock, it’s just after school, people were going to collect their pensions. This is a very, very, very busy locality here at this shop, this petrol station, this deli, the post office at this time.”
Mr Doherty said it had left “a very, very dark cloud” over the community.
He said: “There are silent prayers being said, there are people still trapped within the building and the emergency services are doing everything that they can to remove the rubble, and people are being airlifted away to our hospitals in the region.
“There’s just quiet, it’s surreal. People are just holding on for hope, holding on to hear news, positive news coming from the emergency services.”
Fianna Fail councillor Anthony Molloy told PA it is “beyond words” as he knows the family which owns the service station.
“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved,” Mr Molloy said.
“It looks horrific from what I can see from photographs. It looks terrible. It’s just terrible.
“I know the family. It’s beyond words.”
Local councillor Donal Mandy Kelly told PA the news was “devastating”.
He said: “My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved.”