CREESLOUGH, Ireland, Oct 9 — Ten people including a schoolgirl were killed in an explosion at a petrol station in Ireland’s northwest, police said yesterday suggesting a “tragic accident” may have been to blame.

The blast occurred at around 3:20pm (1520 GMT) on Friday in the County Donegal village of Creeslough, Ireland’s police, the Garda Siochana, said in a media conference yesterday.

“The ten casualties are four men, three women, two teenagers — a boy and a girl — and a younger girl,” said police, adding that all the victims appeared to be locals.

The death toll was not expected to rise, as no one remains unaccounted for, said the force.

Police are treating the incident with an “open mind”, but said that “our information at this moment in time is pointing towards a tragic accident”.

Focus will turn to the causes of the incident once the search and recovery operation is completed.

Rescue efforts by Ireland’s emergency services went on through the night after the blast ripped through a petrol station forecourt and a nearby apartment complex.

An aerial photograph taken after the explosion showed the petrol station building destroyed.

Two two-storey residential buildings behind it had collapsed, while the facade of a similar adjacent building was blown off.

Resident Kieran Gallagher, whose house is about 150 metres (500 feet) from the scene, said the blast sounded like a “bomb”.

“I was in my house at the time and heard the explosion. Instantly I knew it was something — it was like a bomb going off,” he told the BBC.

At a service at the local church on Saturday morning, Father John Joe Duffy said the community had been hit by “a tsunami of grief”.

Many emergency services vehicles remained at the scene overnight, including fire services from both sides of the border with British-run Northern Ireland.

Gardai and civil defence personnel were also involved, and a coastguard helicopter airlifted some of the injured from Letterkenny University Hospital to the capital Dublin for further treatment.

‘Shocked and numbed’

The university hospital, some 15 miles (24 kilometres) from the explosion, was placed on an emergency footing to deal with “multiple injuries”, it said in a statement.

Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin called it a “very dark day” as he spoke to the media briefly before heading to the scene.

“The scale and enormity of it, it’s such a small community, it means that almost everybody will know on a friendly basis people who’ve lost their lives,” he said.

“It’s a very dark day for the people of Donegal and for Ireland.”

Martin spoke to members of the emergency services after arriving, thanking them for their efforts.

“We do need to get to the bottom of all that,” he said of the tragedy.

“This is a scale of death and injury that we do not want to see happening as people go about their daily lives.

“A young child in the shop loses her life, and two teenagers,” he added. “It is truly a shocking, tragic event that has brought an incredible toll on this community.”

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue, who represents northeast Donegal in the Irish parliament, compared the scenes to events during the decades-long sectarian conflict on the island of Ireland over British rule in Northern Ireland.

“People are shocked and numbed,” McConalogue told Irish broadcaster RTE.

“The scenes from the event are reminiscent of the images from The Troubles years ago, in terms of the scene on the ground and the damage and the debris.”

Creeslough is around 30 miles (50 kilometres) from the border with Northern Ireland and has a population of about 400 people.

The Applegreen service station is on the N56 road, which loops around the northern tip of the Irish republic.

Applegreen tweeted that the news was “devastating”.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the deceased, those who have been injured, and the wider Creeslough community,” said the company. — AFP