Hope of survivors ends after deadly blast at flats in Jersey

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By Euronews  with Reuters
Fire crews mobilised work in the rubble of a low-rise apartment block after an explosion on December 10, 2022.
Fire crews mobilised work in the rubble of a low-rise apartment block after an explosion on December 10, 2022.   -   Copyright  SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS/AFP or licensors

A deadly explosion tore through a block of flats in Jersey Saturday morning. 

It killed five people and four residents are still unaccounted for as of Sunday evening, say police. 

The blast happened just before 05:00 CET on Pier Road in St Helier, the capital of the Channel Island, with locals reporting a loud bang and thick plumes of smoke rising high into the air. 

Emergency services searched for possible survivors throughout Saturday, but by Sunday morning they switched to a "recovery operation". 

"It is with sadness that I am confirming that the search-and-rescue operation had been moved to a recovery operation," said Chief of Police Robin Smith, adding that this decision was made after a "detailed assessment and following the use of specialist K9 units". 

A gas leak is thought to be the cause of the tragedy, though this is subject to investigation. 

On Saturday, Smith said there had been a "meticulous and painstaking search of the debris following the explosion, to start carefully identifying bodies when and if we find them".

He suggested the search could take "weeks" during a press conference. 

"We are not going to be here for days we are likely to be here for weeks," said Smith, having earlier described "a pretty devastating scene" following the explosion. 

There were nine known residents in the block of flats, though it is not known if they were any visitors. 

Earlier on Sunday, Smith told reporters that "a three-storey building ... has completely collapsed."

"Described as, from a demolition point of view, probably as a pancake that has just dropped almost sort of straight down."

A neighbour, Anthony Abbott, told the BBC that the windows in his apartment were blown inwards by the blast. 

"Outside everything was on fire", he said, considering himself "lucky".

The flames were extinguished on Saturday.  

Jersey is a small island off the northeastern coast of France, populated by little over 100,000 people. 

Though not in the United Kingdom, it is a Crown Dependency, meaning Britain is responsible for providing its security. It is self-governing, with its own legal and judicial system.  

Smith said fire services had been called to the flats on Friday after residents reported smelling gas.

The police chief did not comment on the cause of the explosion, saying this would be subject to investigation. 

He said 20 to 30 people had been evacuated and two "walking wounded" had been sent to hospital for treatment.

Specialist teams arrived on the Island from the UK's Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Services to help with the operation on Saturday. 

Kristina Moore, Chief Minister of Jersey, offered her condolences to all those affected by the blast. 

"It's a huge shock to everyone this morning but in the first instance our condolences go to the families who are affected and we're all thinking and praying for those who are worried about their loved ones this morning," she said.