Rescuers in Jersey were searching through the night for any survivors from a “devastating” explosion Saturday that flattened a low-rise apartment block, killing at least three people.
Security camera footage showed a fireball engulfing the three-storey building in the Channel island’s port capital St Helier, leaving several people missing.
The blast struck at around 4:00 am (0400 GMT), hours after reports of a gas leak at the bayside block.
“The area is being lit and teams will be working tonight, all night, and we will not stop for the time being,” chief fire officer Paul Brown told reporters.
Chief Minister Kristina Moore confirmed at least three fatalities, and noted that Jersey was already reeling from the sinking of a fishing boat this week in which three men were lost.
Nearby resident Anthony Abbott said his flat’s windows were smashed inward by the blast wave, “and there was fire everywhere outside”.
“It was very, very distressing,” he told the BBC. “I’m a little bit shocked, but we are lucky we’re OK.”
Jersey’s gas supplier, Island Energy, said it was working with the fire service to understand what happened.
The fire was put out but emergency services were conducting “significant work” at the scene, and the rescue operation could take days, police said.
– Tragic week –
Jersey police chief Robin Smith likened the remains of the apartment building to a “pancake”.
“There is also damage to a nearby building as well, another block of flats that the fire service needs to make safe,” he said.
“It is a pretty devastating scene, I regret to say.”
Smith said earlier Saturday that “around a dozen” people were missing, “but you will appreciate also that number could fluctuate”.
Two others were taken to hospital but later discharged.
Specialist equipment was mobilised to find anyone trapped in the rubble, according to the police, helped by an urban search-and-rescue team from southern England.
The chief minister expressed condolences and said residents displaced by the blast were being found somewhere to stay.
“This is going to take some days and we will keep everyone updated and fully informed, and we will do our very best to ensure everybody is properly looked after,” Moore said.
The incident caps a tragic week for Jersey, a British Crown dependency not part of the United Kingdom, whose economy relies on banking, tourism and fishing.
The coastguard Friday abandoned a search for three Jersey fishermen missing for nearly 36 hours after their wooden boat hit a cargo ship and sank.
The freighter is owned by Condor Ferries, whose Jersey offices lie near the destroyed apartment block.
“We must call on the collective strength of the island community,” Moore said.