Jersey explosion: No survivors found in search after blast
A search for people after an explosion at a block of flats in Jersey that left three dead has found no signs of life.
Emergency service bosses said the search and rescue operation was now one of recovery.
“We have been searching and we will not stop searching for people’s loved ones,” Chief Fire Officer Paul Brown told a press conference.
It is understood there were nine known residents in the block before the blast in St Helier on Saturday morning.
Three bodies have been found at the Pier Road scene and specialist teams are continuing to look for six more.
It is estimated there could be up to a dozen, as details on visitors remain unknown.
The fire service had attended the flats just after 20:30 GMT on Friday after the smell of gas was reported, it has been confirmed.
The blast happened at about 04:00 GMT on Saturday.
Specialist teams and a search dog have been carrying out searches at the scene.
Chief of Jersey Police Robin Smith described how there had been a “meticulous and painstaking search of the debris following the explosion, to start carefully identifying bodies when and if we find them”.
He told the press conference: “That will take time. We are not going to be here for days we are likely to be here for weeks.”
Mr Smith said it was “difficult to be precise” on the total number of fatalities.
“The one area I can be precise on is we have three confirmed fatalities and it’s fair to say we expect to find more,” he said.
“Previously we have said in the region of a dozen but it’s difficult to make that assessment. That’s the number we hope we do not get to but that is the number we are working to.”
Mr Smith said “around 40” people had been displaced because of the blast and the damage it had caused to nearby buildings.
None of the emergency leaders could confirm the cause, but Mr Smith was asked to comment on whether it was down to a gas explosion.
“It looks likely that is the case,” he said.
“But as you often hear the police service say, we keep all our options open.”
He added: “We will seek experts who are independent, as we would do with any investigation where there is particular specialisms – be reassured this will be an independent investigation.”
Stating whether criminal activity was suspected, he added: “We rule nothing in and we rule nothing out.”
Paul Brown, Jersey chief fire officer, acknowledged something had gone “horribly wrong”.
He told reporters the fire service would be “co-operating fully” with “honesty” and “transparency”, but the main focus remained on the search operation.
“The most important thing is to understand the absolute truth and also be seen to establish the absolute truth,” he said.
“We do not want any cloud around that at all.”
Bailiff of Jersey Sir Timothy Le Cocq has announced the creation of a Bailiff’s Island Appeal to support people affected by the blast.
Chief Minister Kristina Moore earlier told the BBC she was woken by the explosion.
“It’s unthinkable news, we’re all absolutely devastated and really concerned for the people who are involved, for those whose lives have been lost,” she said.
“Those families will get the answers they need.
“We’re so grateful to the emergency services and everybody who is absolutely committed to searching through the rubble to find everybody.”
Specialist teams from the UK’s Ministry of Defence and fire services have been supporting local crews.
They include the South West Hazardous Area Response Team, alongside an Urban Search and Rescue Team from Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire & Rescue Service.
Two people who were in hospital earlier have been released and one other person is receiving treatment.
Jersey’s gas supplier, Island Energy, said it was working with the fire service to understand what had happened.
The three-storey building that collapsed is owned by Andium Homes, a state-owned but independent company that rents out properties.
It said it was focusing on supporting residents at the estate.
Ms Moore 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,” she added.
The Town Church opened on Saturday evening for islanders to light candles and pay respects to those who had died.
The incident comes after three fishermen were reported missing following a collision at sea on Thursday, and those affected by this will also be supported through the bailiff’s appeal.
On Monday, the flag of Jersey will fly at half mast on the island’s official buildings “as a sign of respect” for those affected by the explosion, the Government of Jersey said.
The flags will be lowered from 08:00 GMT until sunset on 23 December.
A one-minute silence will also be held at 11:00 GMT on Monday to give islanders a moment to “reflect on the incidents that have resulted in loss of life”, the government said.
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