No survivors have been found after an explosion killed three people, left two injured, as “up to a dozen” are still missing following a gas explosion at Haut du Mont flats in St Helier, Jersey, Jersey’s Chief Minister has said. After spending the night combing the wreckage, the 50 emergency staff deployed have found “no signs of life” and have turned the rescue operation into a “recovery operation” after the explosion caused a three-storey building to “completely collapse” on Pier Road. in the Mount Bingham area, Kristina Moore said. Jersey Police Chief Robin Smith said the “protracted accident” will go on for weeks due to the scale of the devastation near an Andium property just before 4am.
Jersey’s Chief of Police, Robin Smith, said: “It is with sadness that I am confirming that the search-and-rescue operation had been moved to a recovery operation.
“The decision was made after a detailed assessment and following the use of specialist K9 units.
“Disaster victim identification (DVI) strategies are in place and specialist officers are surveying the scene with fire and ambulance services and tactical advisers from urban search and rescue (USAR).”
In the new phase of the search, rescuers will carry out a “meticulous” and “painstaking” search of the debris left following the explosion. A specialist staff, comprised of Jersey police and UK police, will start identifying bodies “when and if we find them”, Mr Smith added.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire. Firefighters, who were called to the scene in the early hours of Saturday, reported that residents complained about the smell of gas.
Jersey’s gas supplier, Island Energy, is collaborating with local authorities to find out the cause of the accident: “We are working with @JsyFire to understand exactly what has happened. [We] Will share more information once it is available. We ask that islanders continue to follow the advice given by emergency services at this time.”
Between 20 and 30 people evacuated from the area were taken to St Helier Town Hall, with two victims taken to the hospital. While firefighters put out the flames earlier this morning, emergency services were still carrying out “significant” work”, they said, as they asked residents to avoid the Pier Road, Pier Road car park and South Hill.
Eyewitnesses said windows at properties around the fire were shattered by the explosion. After hearing a “really loud explosion”, a neighbor told ITV news he saw “glass all over”: “I’ll be honest, I had never seen an explosion like it.”
The man showed the extent of the damage caused by the explosion with the window above his front door shattered, as he spent the whole morning cleaning glass inside his house.
“It’s a really bad thing to happen around Christmas for everyone. My prayers go out to everyone,” he added.
According to local media, debris was strewn around the area, including commercial buildings, with Jersey Police diverting traffic.
BBC Jersey reporter Chris Craddock, who was near the scene, said: “You could see glass, you could see rocks, you could see stones strewn across the area both on the pavement and on the road. “Police have cordoned off the area and are diverting traffic.”
Pier Road, Pier Road car park, and South Hill are closed as police continue to investigate the incident.
Housing Minister Deputy David Warr says the explosion was at an Andium property and has appealed for offers of temporary accommodation.
He tweeted: “There has been a major explosion on Pier road in one of the@Andiumhomes flats. Emergency services are on-site and town hall is taking in walking wounded. Thoughts with those families affected at this time. We will need temp accommodation. Please get in touch if you can help.”
Islanders heard a loud bang in the early hours of the morning just before 4am today.
Local residents said the sheer power of the explosion had them think it was an earthquake, with @ErvinAutumnfest saying: “Yes I thought it was an earthquake but looks to be an explosion between Pier Road car park and Fort Regent perhaps, very organized police and fire response and taxi evacuation it seems for some.”
Kristina Moore, the chief minister of Jersey, paid tribute to the emergency services for their work at the scene, which she said would take “some days” to clear.
“The public effort has been quite extraordinary. We’ve been overwhelmed by people wishing to help in both practical and financial ways.”
She added a fund will be set up to support displaced people and local authorities who lost a trawler earlier this week.