Jersey rescuers searched throughout the night for survivors of a “devastating” explosion on Saturday that leveled a low-rise building, 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 happened around 04:00 (0400 GMT), hours after reports of a gas leak in the Bayside block.
“The area is lit and crews will be working tonight, all night, and we won’t be stopping at this time,” Fire Chief Paul Brown told reporters.
Chief Minister Kristina Moore confirmed at least three deaths and noted Jersey was already reeling from the sinking of a fishing boat this week in which three men were lost.
Neighboring resident Anthony Abbott said the windows in his apartment were smashed inwards by the blast wave, “and there was fire everywhere outside”.
“It was very, very distressing,” he told the BBC. “I’m a bit shocked, but we’re lucky to be okay.”
Jersey gas supplier Island Energy said it was working with firefighters to figure out what happened.
The fire was put out but emergency services were carrying out “extensive work” at the scene, and the rescue operation could take days, police said.
– Tragic week –
Jersey Police Chief Robin Smith compared the remains of the building to a “pancake”.
“There is also damage to a nearby building, another building that firefighters need to secure,” he said.
“It’s a pretty devastating scene, I regret to say.”
Smith said earlier on Saturday that “a dozen” people were missing, “but you will also understand that this number can fluctuate.”
Two others were taken to hospital but later released.
Specialist equipment was mobilized to find anyone trapped in the rubble, police said, aided by an urban search and rescue team from the south of England.
The Chief Minister expressed his condolences and said residents displaced by the blast were being found somewhere to stay.
“It’s going to take a few days and we’ll keep everyone updated and fully informed, and we’ll do our best to make sure everyone is properly taken care of,” Moore said.
The incident caps a tragic week for Jersey, a non-UK Crown dependency whose economy is based on banking, tourism and fishing.
The coastguard on Friday abandoned the search for three Jersey fishermen who have been missing for nearly 36 hours after their wooden boat hit a freighter and sank.
The freighter is owned by Condor Ferries, whose Jersey offices are near the destroyed building.
“We must call on the collective strength of the island community,” Moore said.