TWO men died in a freak accident in a DIY store when an internal wall fell on them as they were shopping.
Separate investigations were under way last night to try to find the cause of the accident – possibly a freak gust of wind – after the two customers died from their injuries at a garden centre and DIY store in Longford town.
Sean Mulleady (49), from Drumlish, Co Longford, and Pat Gaffney, who was in his late 60s, from Tarmonbarry, Co Roscommon, died from their injuries after an internal wall more than nine metres tall fell on them in the Connacht Gold DIY and Garden Centre on the Athlone Road.
Both men were rushed to the Midlands Regional Hospital in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, where they later died despite efforts by medics to save them.
Four other people were also rushed to hospital, one with serious injuries, after being trapped under the rubble.
Bystanders frantically worked to pull the fallen masonry off the injured as they lay on the shop floor.
Local woman Elizabeth Fallon was in the store with her son Bernard when the wall collapsed. “It was like being in the middle of a horror story,” she said.
“I was standing in Connacht Gold with my son and as I turned away from the counter I heard a loud noise. The wind, it was a tremendous gush. It was rattling the roof overhead.”
Ms Fallon told her son to run and both managed to escaped injury as the blocks rained down.
The pair then went to assist those caught in the collapse.
"We went back to help and lift blocks off the injured. Some were badly injured, some had head injuries, some had broken limbs," she said.
"We did our best, along with members of staff. I am extremely traumatised."
Mr Mulleady was a well-known businessman from the area. He died after being struck by the falling masonry.
His wife Teresa and three children, Mark, David and Claire, along with his mother Sadie, were last night being comforted by family members.
Mr Gaffney survived for several hours before succumbing to his injuries. His wife Patsy and children John and Denise were also being comforted by family.
Mr Mulleady was remembered by relatives and friends last night for his love of family, his strong work ethic and his passion for horses.
His cousin, Martin Mulleady, told the Irish Independent that the family were in shock after hearing the news.
He said: "We are all very cut up about it. He was just picking something up. We can't believe it, the wall fell on him and he was badly injured. This is a massive shock to us all."
Supt Denis Shields declined to speculate on whether high winds may have contributed to the collapse. Health and Safety Authority investigators conducted extensive surveys of the building last night.
The wall ran the entire length of the building, separating the agricultural store from the rest of the premises. The upper section appears to have come down along two-thirds of its length.
Tom Crosby, Roscommon mayor and friend of Mr Gaffney's, said: "He was highly respected in the community and he loved his family immensely. He was a great supporter of the community and was a lovely man. I'm in shock."
Mr Mulleady was passionate about horses, kept his own stables and was a member of the Longford Harriers and South Leitrim Harriers hunt clubs.
Thomas Reynolds, chairman of the South Leitrim Harriers, said: "He had been out with us only last weekend with his three children riding behind him. He was a very popular man."
Damien Mulleady, another cousin of the deceased, said: "We were first cousins but he was like a father figure to me.
"I had lost both parents by the time I was 10. Sean was 10 years older and he moved in to our house.
"He was all about his family, he worked extremely hard all his life for them. He didn't smoke, didn't drink, the only thing that mattered to that man was his family and work."
Mr Mulleady's father, former Fianna Fail councillor Sean Mulleady died last August.
The incident occurred at around 2pm when a considerable number of customers were on the premises.
Up to nine ambulances, two fire tenders and several garda cars rushed to the scene to free the men who were trapped under mounds of brickwork and plaster.
The four other people injured in the incident included a company representative and customers.
The chief executive of Connacht Gold, Aaron Forde said: "The board, management and staff of Connacht Gold Co-op express deepest sympathy to the families. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time.
"Safety is a primary concern for Connacht Gold and we are working in every way with the emergency services, the gardai and the Health and Safety Authority in establishing the cause of the accident."
Connacht Gold opened the store in the leased premises just over nine months ago. It is understood that the store was extensively renovated after suffering serious damage in a fire in 2008 while it was being run by another hardware operator.