Donegal explosion: Irish petrol station blast that killed 10 probably a 'tragic accident'

Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin has visited Creeslough as police release the names of the victims

Emergency workers at the scene of an explosion at a petrol station in Creeslough, Donegal, Republic of Ireland. Ten people have died, including a young girl. AP
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Friday's deadly explosion at a petrol station in the Republic of Ireland was probably a tragic accident, Irish police said on Saturday.

Ten people, including a young girl, were killed.

Four men, three women, two teenagers — one male and one female — and a girl of primary-school age were confirmed dead following the explosion at a petrol station in Creeslough, County Donegal, An Garda Siochana, the Irish police force, said.

"At this point in time 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," said Garda Superintendent David Kelly at a media conference in Milford, Co Donegal.

On Sunday, the police released the names of those killed: Catherine O'Donnell, 39, and her son James Monaghan, 14, Robert Garwe, 50, and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe, 14-year-old Leona Harper, Jessica Gallagher, 24; James O'Flaherty, 48; Martin McGill, 49; Martina Martin, 49, and 59-year-old Hugh Kelly.

Letterkenny Rugby Club paid tribute to Leona Harper calling her a "talented rugby player" and an "important part of our U14 girl's team" in a post on their Facebook page.

"We are heartbroken to say our worst fears have been confirmed ... to Leona's parents, Hugh and Donna, her brothers Anthony and Jamie, and all of her teammates, we offer you our deepest condolences and support," the club said.

"There are no words that feel strong enough at a moment of deep sorrow such as this.

"Rest in peace, Leona."

Taoiseach Micheal Martin, the country's prime minister, visited the site on Saturday and spoke to members of the emergency services.

"The entire nation is mourning and deeply saddened," he said.

Emergency services at the scene of the explosion. Getty

"Talking to those on the front line and everyone involved, they were very moved by the extraordinary support they got from the community here almost immediately.

"Many volunteers rushed to the scene to try and do everything they could to help because it was an horrific scene they came upon and we must always remember our emergency services.

"I want to thank them for helping those who were trapped and injured. We must do everything we can to support the community.

"Words on their own will not console someone who has lost a loved one and we have to be with them. We will be with them for quite some time."

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Ireland's main opposition party, also visited Creeslough on Saturday evening, as did the country's deputy prime minister, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar.

The political leaders later joined members of the emergency services and residents for a service at a nearby church.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin speaks to Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, at the scene of an explosion at Applegreen service station. PA

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Gary Martin, director of emergency services at Donegal County Council, said the local community had attended the scene “in huge numbers” and contributed to search and rescue efforts.

He said rescuers’ primary aim on Friday was to stabilise the “substantially damaged building” and rescue those who were injured.

Mr Martin said crews would remain at the site to ensure there were no remaining casualties.

However, a representative of the police said everyone had been accounted for.

A Garda spokesman told journalists that although the force was keeping an open mind regarding the possible cause of the explosion as part of their investigation, all information at this early stage is “pointing towards a tragic accident”.

Eight people were taken to hospital after being injured in the blast, with one in a critical condition.

Having announced three fatalities on Friday night, police said seven more victims were found on Saturday.

Officers used sniffer dogs to search for human remains in the wreckage.

Rubble was moved on to trailers and hauled from the scene on Saturday morning. Two rescue workers were on a raised platform above the site of the explosion and a digger was working through the debris.

Firefighters leave the scene of an explosion at a petrol station in Creeslough, Co Donegal, on Saturday afternoon. AFP

Relatives of people believed to have been in the buildings at the time of the explosion gathered at a cordon on Friday evening waiting for word of the missing.

At one point, all machinery was turned off and onlookers were asked to remain silent as rescue workers attempted to detect survivors. A coastguard helicopter flew some of those who were injured in the blast from Letterkenny University Hospital to Dublin.

Garda Superintendent Liam Geraghty said the incident will have “a huge impact to a small rural community”.

“They are all local people. They are all very much involved in the community. They were all people who were shopping in their local shop," he said.

“We have very, very young children. The schools are going to be impacted, the clubs are going to be impacted, the local church, in general the community is going to be severely impacted by this incident.

“But it is a very strong community as was seen here on Friday afternoon with the response of families, friends and neighbours who came to people’s rescue.

“So I am sure the community will come together and will support each other.”

Father John Joe Duffy, a local Catholic priest, said the community was “numb and devastated”.

“We’re just broken-hearted, everyone is broken-hearted, we’re lost for words,” he said.

“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 lie ahead.”

Irish President Michael D Higgins expressed his shock at the “terrible tragedy”.

“All of our thoughts must go out to all of those who have been affected,” he said. “Those who have received news of the loss of a loved one, those injured and, most of all, those who are waiting with anxiety for news of their loved ones.

“This tragedy is a terrible blow to a community that is closely knit and where every loss and injury will be felt by every member of the community and far beyond.”

Mr Martin said Friday was the “darkest of days” for Donegal and Ireland.

“People across this island will be numbed by the same sense of shock and utter devastation as the people of Creeslough at this tragic loss of life,” he said.

Pearse Doherty, a Sinn Fein member of parliament from Donegal, was among those who visited the scene on Saturday morning. He said the blast “not only ripped the heart out of this building, but ripped the heart out of this community and left a huge amount of devastation”.

Agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fail member of parliament for Donegal, arrived at the cordon as the rescue operation continued into the night. He called it a “really challenging, traumatic situation here in Creeslough” that had caused devastation in the locality.

“This is something which is going to mark this community and indeed Donegal for many years to come,” he said.

Fund-raising efforts under way

Ireland's postal service has invited the public to donate to a support fund to help those affected by the explosion.

The announcement from An Post came as an online fund-raiser set up by someone originally from the village passed €80,000 ($78,000) on Saturday evening.

An Post said people could make donations to the Creeslough Community Support Fund at its 902 post offices nationwide from Monday.

It said the funds raised would be channelled through the Irish Red Cross to provide help to those bereaved, injured or made homeless by the blast.

"The An Post board, management and staff across Ireland send their deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers to all those who have lost loved ones in the Creeslough tragedy, to those who are injured, to the Postmistress and Post Office staff and all the Creeslough community," the postal service.

"An Post will accept donations for a special Creeslough Community Support Fund at all its 920 Post Offices nationwide from this Monday, 10 October.

"All donations by cash or debit card will be channelled through the Irish Red Cross to provide practical support and services to all those who have been bereaved, injured or made homeless by Friday's tragedy. There will be no fee payable for making donations.

"An Post and the Irish Red Cross will work with state service providers and local groups to ensure that supports are available to all those who need them in the weeks and months ahead."

Updated: October 10, 2022, 5:33 AM