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Praise for volunteers who dug through Creeslough blast debris in ‘flip-flops’

Ordinary community members who helped emergency services remove rubble and search for survivors have been praised.

10 October 2022

Emergency services have praised members of the community who helped at the scene of a devastating explosion in Co Donegal which left 10 people dead.

HSE Western Region chief ambulance officer JJ McGowan paid tribute to the many volunteers who had come to the assistance of first responders in Creeslough.

Mr McGowan told RTE News: “They were doing momentous work. People in flip-flops, shorts, t-shirts removing rubble and debris.

“This (recovery operation) lasted up to 22, 24 hours, and that was very difficult for the crews on scene.

“(For) the community here in Creeslough, it really is a momentous task what they have to deal with in the next few days ahead to get over this and try and bring back any sense of normality to the lives of the people here.”

It comes as hundreds of people gathered at vigils in memory of the 10 people lost in Friday’s blast.

A five-year-old girl and her father were among those killed at a complex that includes residential apartments and a petrol station.

An Garda Siochana continues to investigate the cause, though at this stage it is being treated as a “tragic accident”.

Explosion at Donegal service station
The 10 victims (An Garda Siochana/PA)

Those who died were 50-year-old Robert Garwe and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe; 48-year-old James O’Flaherty; 24-year-old Jessica Gallagher; 49-year-old Martin McGill; 39-year-old Catherine O’Donnell and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan; 59-year-old Hugh Kelly; 49-year-old Martina Martin; and 14-year-old Leona Harper.

One of the first funerals confirmed will take place on Wednesday – for James O’Flaherty in St Mary’s Church in Derrybeg.

Garda said a man in his 20s remains in a critical condition at St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

Explosion at Donegal service station
People at a vigil in Milford (Brian Lawless/PA)

Seven other surviving casualties continue to receive treatment in Letterkenny University Hospital and remain in a stable condition.

Almost 20 vigils were organised across Co Donegal on Sunday.

One of the first took place in the town of Milford, half an hour’s drive from the scene of the tragedy.

Parents hugged their children, people carried candles, prayers were said and music was played, including a song called Creeslough, written and played by a local musician.

Explosion at Donegal service station
Louise Devine with her daughter Lilly Hegarty, eight, at a vigil in Milford (Brian Lawless/PA)

The vigil ended with the crowd singing Irish language hymn A Mhuire Mhathair.

Parish priest Father Stephen Gorman read a statement sent on behalf of Pope Francis, expressing his sadness at the loss of life and sending his condolences to the people of Ireland.

A statement sent by his representative to Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian read: “His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the loss of life and destruction caused by the explosion in Creeslough and he expresses his spiritual closeness to all those suffering in the aftermath of this tragedy.

Explosion at Donegal service station
A Garda crime scene investigator at the scene of the explosion (Brian Lawless/PA)

“While entrusting the deceased to the merciful love of almighty god, His Holiness implores the divine blessings of consolation and healing upon the injured, the displaced and the families coping with pain of loss.

“As a pledge of strength and peace in the lord, the Holy Father sends his blessing to all the people of Ireland.”

Later, there were similar scenes in the town of Castlefinn.

Local cleric Ciaran Hegarty led a moment of prayer before those gathered held a two-minute silence.

Musician Marian Harper-Coleman played the song Cutting The Corn In Creeslough on the button accordion.

Earlier on Sunday, Irish premier Micheal Martin met those who were admitted to hospital, the medical team which was on duty on the day of the explosion and members of Letterkenny fire station.

Joining Mr Martin were Ireland’s deputy premier Leo Varadkar and Agriculture Minister and Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue.

The remains of the victims are at the hospital in Letterkenny, where post-mortem examinations will continue over the next few days.

Police said results will not be released for operational reasons.

The Garda Technical Bureau, with assistance from other agencies, will continue to examine the scene, which remains cordoned off.

Garda Superintendent Liam Geraghty told reporters that what has happened will have a significant impact on the small rural community.

Explosion at Donegal service station
Taoiseach Micheal Martin meets firefighter Kevin Boylan at Letterkenny fire station (Brian Lawless/PA)

“They are all local people. They are all very much involved in the community. They were all people who were shopping in their local shop,” he said.

“We have very, very young children. The schools are going to be impacted, the GAA clubs are going to be impacted, the local church, in general the community is going to be severely impacted by this incident.

“But it is a very strong community, as was seen here on Friday afternoon with the response of families, friends and neighbours who came to people’s rescue.

“So, I am sure the community will come together and will support each other.”

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