Gardaí have tonight confirmed that three people have died in the explosion at a Donegal petrol station and apartment block this afternoon.
Specialist digging equipment and sniffer dogs are being used to sift through the rubble for missing people overnight after a service station and apartments in Co Donegal were demolished by an explosion that was heard at least 5km away.
Night lights were drafted in as an search continued for a number of missing people, with fears of more fatalities.
In a statement this evening, gardaí confirmed that three people had died.
"At this time, An Garda Síochána can confirm there has been three fatalities as a result of this serious incident,” a spokesperson said.
The Taoiseach this evening said his thoughts were with those affected.
"My thoughts and prayers are today with those who have lost their lives, and those injured in the devastating explosion in Creeslough,” Micheál Martin said.
“I wish to express my deepest sympathies to their family, and friends, and to the entire community of Creeslough, on this darkest of days for Donegal and the entire country.
“People across this island will be numbed by the same sense of shock and utter devastation as the people of Creeslough at this tragic loss of life.
“I would like to thank all the members of the emergency services, from across the North-West and Northern Ireland, who responded so quickly to the scene, and who are working throughout the night in extremely traumatic circumstances."
It is understood that those working on the site and searching for survivors in the rubble are concerned about the safety of the building.
Pictures show half-fallen walls which pose an ongoing threat to those working at the scene.
The explosion occurred shortly after 3pm in the busy village of Creeslough.
It is still not known the cause of the explosion, which destroyed the Applegreen Service Station.
From pictures taken just moments after the blast there was no fire at the scene.
One local man who lives just a kilometre from the village said he was thrown from his seat as he worked at his desk.
"I couldn't believe the power of it and I didn't know what had happened. We drove into town and it was just carnage,” he said.
"There was no ambulances or Gardaí at the scene at that stage because it had literally just happened.
"I saw one person on the ground.
"Miraculously we saw another man in the upstairs apartment and he actually wasn't injured at all and he came down on a ladder."
Rescue efforts are will continue into the night to try to get to several people who are understood to be under the rubble, and gardaí are asking motorists to avoid the area if possible.
Local TD Joe McHugh, who is at the scene this evening, said locals are “trying to do their best. It’s a horrible waiting game”.
"I came over as soon as I heard what happened because I would know a lot of the people in the area obviously,” he said.
"I wanted just to be here with those people and offer them my support. We are thinking of them and all the people and relations who are affected by this tragedy in this close-knit community.
"There is a numbness here and people are simply in a state of shock. It's a waiting game now.”
The force of the blast was so strong that it shattered windows in a number of nearby buildings, with one local person hearing the explosion 5km away.
The service station and adjoining post office is run by the local Lafferty family, a well-known and respected family from the area.
The complex, which sits at the entrance to the village coming from the Termon direction, houses a number of other small businesses including a hairdressing salon.
The complex also contains several apartments above the service station's shop which house a number of young families.
Large parts of the facade of the upstairs apartment complex were ripped off during the explosion, and the roof has collapsed, along with the roof of the service station, while several cars were damaged.
Inside the apartments onlookers could see beds and pictures hanging from walls.
The emergency services rushed to the scene of the incident which ambulances coming from as far away as Northern Ireland to aid their colleagues in Donegal and the Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 118 helicopter coming from Sligo.
Gardaí said the search operation involved multiple agencies.
"An Garda Siochana continue to assist other emergency services at the scene of a serious ongoing incident that occurred at approximately 3:20pm on Friday, 7th October, 2022, at a premises on the N56 at Creeslough, County Donegal,” they said.
"This emergency response has been led by the Donegal County Council Fire Service with assistance by An Garda Siochana, the National Ambulance Service, Irish Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Rescue 118 Helicopter, Irish Air Corps Medivac 112, Northern Ireland Ambulance HEMS, Irish Community Air Ambulance (Ground Crew), Northern Ireland Urban Search and Rescue, Meavagh Fire Service, Donegal Mountain Rescue, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service HART team (Hazardous Area Response Team) and the Donegal County Council Civil Defence.”
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the explosion had “ripped through the building”.
“It’s very sombre here, there are silent prayers being said. This is a dark, dark cloud over the community of Creeslough and further afield,” he said.
“Everybody is just holding on and hoping they can make contact with their loved ones inside the building. Emergency services are working tirelessly to get them out. Locals were helping, trying to free them, but now the building is cordoned off and emergency services are working.
“The story emerging from Creeslough is a terrible one, it’s a dark story today. This is a very busy locality near the shop and 3pm is a busy time. People are collecting their pensions and kids are just finishing school. It’s surreal and people are holding on for hope, to hear positive news coming from emergency services.”
Letterkenny General Hospital have now implemented an emergency planning protocol.
"Letterkenny University Hospital is dealing with a serious incident, with multiple injured people requiring immediate attention,” it said.
"The hospital has now moved to Major Emergency Standby as it deals with this incident. We are appealing to the public to not come to the Emergency Department unless it is an emergency. Please contact your GP or NowDoc service in the first instance. NowDoc has increased staffing this evening to help deal with any additional demands."
It’s understood they are preparing for multiple casualties from the scene.
Speaking to Highland Radio, Parish Priest Fr John Joe Duffy said: “There no words, it’s just a tragedy beyond belief.”
“We’re devastated, this has just happened in the heart of our community. Things are unfolding as of yet, so we’re not sure but the one thing I ask is for the prayers of the people of this county and the prayers of the people of the country to help us as people continue to work there and search in the building.
“So, I just ask the people of the country to take us to their hearts, as I’m sure they will, and prayer with us through this terrible sadness, terrible tragedy and an accident beyond belief and beyond our imagining.
“We’re all a family in this community. This is the shop in our community where we all meet and converse. I’m in there every day and it’s just heart breaking.”
A worker in the Coffee Pod, a cafe located just across the road from the petrol station, said they heard "a very loud explosion" but had no idea what had occurred until they "saw the state" of the petrol station. Their premises was not damaged in the explosion and the worker said that there were numerous emergency vehicles at the scene.
Another local woman said: "It's just awful. We don't really know what happened because we're down at the opposite end of the town, but it doesn't look good.
"The whole is town is closed up, all the roads are blocked and there's nobody going nowhere. There's nowhere to go,” she added.
In a statement, Applegreen said: "Emergency services are continuing to deal with a major incident at Creeslough in Co Donegal. The thoughts and prayers of everyone here at Applegreen are with all of those who have been affected.”
In a statement, Fuels for Ireland, the representative body for service stations, said: “The reports of a serious incident in Creeslough are dreadfully upsetting.
"We’re thinking of our friends and colleagues in Donegal and greatly appreciate the heroic efforts of the emergency services and medical professionals.”
Local Fianna Fáil councillor Anthony Molloy said the incident is "beyond words" as he knows the family who own the service station.
"My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved," Mr Molloy said.
"It looks horrific from what I can see from photographs. It looks terrible. It's just terrible.
"I know the family. It's beyond words."
Another local councillor, Donal Mandy Kelly, said the news was "devastating".
He said: "My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved."
Speaking on RTÉ Drivetime, local Independent Councillor John O’Donnell said: “Everybody's just very shocked and traumatised.
“You can see people that I was at the scene there working, they’re working their way back out so … you know by the expressions on their face, that it’s not a sight for good eyes.
“They're just trying to make the building safe, so it won’t collapse any further. So, it’s hard to believe in a small rural village, so close to home for ourselves as well, and certainly, it'll take a long time for the are to recover – if it ever recovers from it.”
Local pharmacy Brennans put out a statement on social media to say they were "devastated by the tragedy”.
"It's hard to comprehend how something like this could happen in the middle of an ordinary day. Almost everyone in this community calls to the supermarket on a daily basis for groceries, newspapers or fuel, and also visits the post office since it relocated there recently. So we all have that feeling of 'there but for the grace of god go I'.
"Any one of us could have been there. For several families and residents, the apartments above the shop are home. Right now our thoughts and prayers are with all those seriously injured, the staff and customers in the shop at the time, the residents upstairs and with their families and friends who we know are so worried about them.
“Other local people have escaped unhurt, but must be hugely traumatised as the shock of this accident hits home. Our thanks to the amazing work of the emergency services which continues onsite and at Letterkenny Hospital. Brennans Pharmacy will remain open until 9pm tonight for anyone who needs medication, advice or any other help we can offer.”
Reverend Paul Linkens, clerk of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Presbytery of Derry and Donegal offered his thoughts to the victims and their families.
“This afternoon’s explosion in Cresslough has come as terrible shock,” he said.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been injured and their families who are understandably shaken and worried by what has happened, especially those who are still awaiting news of their loved ones.
"As the emergency services continue to work into the night with skill and determination, we give thanks for their commitment and perseverance and continue to pray for everyone caught up in this heart-breaking incident.”
The Shandon Hotel in nearby Dunfanaghy said it was working with emergency services to provide support in any way possible. The hotel is not taking reservations for tonight, so as to make room for emergency personnel.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved or affected by the explosion in our local community. The local authorities have been in touch, and we have offered to assist and help in any way we can by way of accommodation and supplies for the emergency service workers drafted in to assist in this tragic incident," a spokesperson for the hotel said.
"There are diversions in place for those still due to arrive. We will not be taking any more bookings for tonight or tomorrow night as we are reserving rooms left for this incident."