Rescuers in Jersey on Sunday abandoned hope of finding survivors from an explosion that flattened a three-storey apartment block, with more than a dozen people feared dead.
At least three people were confirmed killed in the blast early on Saturday in the Channel island’s port capital St Helier, following a suspected gas leak.
“We have three confirmed fatalities and it’s fair to say we expect to find more,” police chief Robin Smith told a news conference, saying that around 12 residents remained unaccounted for.
“It is with sadness that I am confirming that the search-and-rescue operation has been moved to a recovery operation,” he said.
The next phase will involve a “meticulous and painstaking search of the debris” which could take weeks, Smith said.
A gas leak was the “likely” cause, he added. “But as you often hear the police service say, we keep all our options open.”
Aided by sniffer dogs and urban rescue experts from southern England, Jersey emergency workers had picked through the rubble overnight.
Fire chief Paul Brown confirmed that firefighters were called out to investigate the smell of gas on Friday evening, more than seven hours before the explosion.
He conceded that something had gone “horribly wrong” given the subsequent disaster, but insisted Jersey islanders could still have confidence in his service.
“We have been searching and we will not stop searching for people’s loved ones,” Brown said.
Jersey’s gas supplier, Island Energy, said it was working with the fire service to understand what happened.
Like many others in St Helier, Jersey’s Chief Minister Kristina Moore said she was woken by the blast.
“Across the island, you could hear this extraor-dinary sound,” she told the BBC. “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.”
Officials said around 40 residents near the de-stroyed flats had to be relocated on Saturday, and Moore praised the community for rallying around.
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 on Friday gave up 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 after the twin disas-ters.—AFP