Emergency workers are searching through the night after an explosion at a block of flats in Jersey left three people dead and a dozen missing.
Specialist teams and a search dog are on the scene, following the collapse in St Helier on Saturday morning.
The Jersey government says a “meticulous” multi-agency search effort is being coordinated.
Island police chief officer Robin Smith described the scene at Pier Road as “complete devastation”.
A video, tweeted by the island’s government, shows piles of rubble and a crushed car behind the police cordon.
Chief Minister Kristina Moore described it as an “unimaginable tragedy”.
The Jersey government said the search effort involved a “number of stages, including vacating the site for short periods to allow dogs to enter, and the careful movement of debris”.
Chief fire officer Paul Brown earlier told a press conference: “The plan is we will continue searching. Teams will be working all night and they will not stop.”
He added: “The primary challenge is the fact that we have a dangerous structure that has collapsed.
“Anything that we do, or do in the wrong way, may then jeopardise the chance of survival of anyone who might be rescued.”
Two people who were in the hospital earlier have been released and one other person is receiving treatment.
The blast happened at about 04:00 GMT on Saturday.
Police chief Mr Smith said “there are a number of working hypotheses” as to what had happened but warned people “not to speculate”.
He added: “Thankfully these circumstances are very rare but nevertheless they are of deep concern to communities.”
Witnesses have spoken of the ground being shaken by the force of the explosion.
Daniel Hunt, 19, from St Helier, tweeted pictures of the fire from his flat.
“Everything shook, my windows were shaking, the whole room shook,” he said. “You could feel the shockwave through your bedroom almost. In the moment you think, what was that?”
The government has repurposed its Covid helpline for those who need support following the incident.
Jersey’s gas supplier, Island Energy, said it was working with the fire service to understand what had happened.
It was earlier confirmed the fire service had attended the scene on Friday night after the smell of gas was reported.
The chief fire officer was asked if the call on Friday had had anything to do with the cause of the explosion.
Mr Brown said: “I will give you an answer to that but what I’d like to do for the moment is focus on the emergency response, talk to my colleagues and consider those bits that are subject to investigation and make sure I don’t tell you something that I need to tell someone else first.”
The three-storey building which collapsed is owned by Andium Homes which is a state-owned but independent company that rents out properties.
It said it was focusing on supporting residents at the estate.
The Government of Jersey said specialist teams from the UK had arrived to support local crews in the search for survivors.
The South West Hazardous Area Response Team has arrived on the island, alongside an Urban Search and Rescue Team from Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire & Rescue Service.
A Chinook helicopter, typically used for military operations, was due to bring specialist equipment to the island, the government said.
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.
Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab tweeted he was “deeply saddened” by the news.
“I commend the work of the emergency services responding and we stand ready to support in any way we can,” he said.
The incident comes days after three fishermen were reported missing following a collision at sea on Thursday.
Ms Moore said: “We must call on the collective strength of the island community.”
source – BBC