At least three people have died following a “devastating” explosion at a three-storey tower block in Jersey.
Chief Minister Kristina Moore confirmed the latest total at a news conference following the blast in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“A dozen” are missing after the “fierce” explosion at Haut du Mont on Pier Road in the Channel Island’s capital, St Helier.
Police described the scene as “utter devastation”, telling reporters the tower had “completely collapsed” and “didn’t even look like a building anymore” after the “very, very large explosion”.
States of Jersey Police were called to the scene at 4am, with one person pronounced dead and two others, described as “walking injured”, taken to hospital.
They have since been released with a third person being treated for non-serious injuries, doctors said.
A fire ignited by the blast was initially believed to have been extinguished, with emergency services “carrying out extensive work” at the scene.
However, on Saturday afternoon, police said “pockets of fire” had been discovered, adding that the site remained “very dangerous”.
The South West Hazardous Area Response Team, together with an Urban Search and Rescue Team from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service, have been deployed to bring their help.
Firefighters were called to the area around 8:30 p.m. Friday night after residents reported the smell of gas.
The cause of the explosion remains unknown
The cause of the blast remains unknown, as emergency crews say their number one priority is to locate anyone alive in the rubble.
Robin Smith, Chief Constable of the States of Jersey, said there are “a number of working hypotheses”, but stressed it was important not to speculate.
A senior detective has been assigned to investigate the incident, which could be a “criminal or joint investigation”, he said.
Asked what could cause such a “fierce” explosion, Fire Chief Paul Brown said there are “many different potential causes” but it’s too early to speculate.
Asked if the blast happened near a gas distribution network, he said: “We have been talking to the utility companies throughout the day.”
“It’s not going to end today”
Mr Smith described the scene as ‘complete devastation’.
He said “significant progress” had been made through a “coordinated effort” to deal with the tragedy, with the search for missing people expected to continue through the night.
But he warned the incident was “protracted” and would likely last “days, maybe weeks”.
“It’s important that we have the resilience to keep going and keep going,” he said at the press conference, adding, “It’s not going to end today.”
Specially trained officers have been deployed to Jersey Town Hall to provide support to those affected by the incident, which will continue “well beyond” the search and rescue phase, Mr Smith said.
Ms Moore described the incident as an “unimaginable tragedy”.
She told the conference: “As we know at 4am this morning, our island has experienced an unimaginable tragedy which has claimed the lives of at least three islanders.
“The last 12 hours have shown me the resilience, competence and dedication of our emergency services and our community as a whole.”
Ms Moore said her thoughts were with those whose loved ones had died, those awaiting news and anyone forced from their homes.
She also gave her “sincere thanks” to the emergency crews who worked tirelessly through the night and praised the “compassion” of the islanders.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab tweeted that he was “deeply saddened” by the incident and praised the work of the emergency services, adding: “We stand ready to lend our support in any way we can.”