Emergency services are now treating the scene of an explosion in St Helier, Jersey, as a “recovery operation” rather than search and rescue.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, a huge blast erupted from a three-storey building.
Three people were confirmed dead and a dozen were said to be missing after the block of flats was destroyed just before 4am.
Chief of Jersey 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).”
On Saturday, Jersey Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer, Paul Brown, confirmed they had been called and had carried out investigations on the three-storey building just hours before the explosion.
At a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Mr Brown said firefighters attended the site in St Helier on Friday night after receiving a call at 8.36pm after residents reported smelling gas.
Previously, States of Jersey Police chief officer Robin Smith said that around 12 people were missing, adding: “My hope, of course, is that the number is a lot less.”
He said it was a “protracted incident” that could “go on for days, maybe weeks.”
Mr Brown told reporters the scene was one of “complete devastation” and the situation is a “total collapse”.
He said: “The plan is that we will continue searching and we have no other plan at this stage.
“The area is being lit and teams will be working tonight, all night, and we will not stop for the time being.”
Asked if the call the fire service responded to on Friday evening had anything to do with the cause of the explosion, Mr Brown replied: “I can confirm that the fire and rescue service did attend.
“I don’t know the exact number of firefighters, but they did attend. The call was received at 20.36 yesterday evening.
“I know that they did conduct investigations, but I think at the moment what I’m focused on is just the emergency response.
“I will give you an answer to that but what I’d like to do for the moment is focus on the emergency response, talk to my colleagues and consider those bits that are subject to investigation – and make sure I don’t tell you something that I need to tell someone else first.”
Chief Minister Kristina Moore announced at least three people had died.
She said it was an “unimaginable tragedy” for the Channel Island.
Asked to provide an update on the two people earlier described as “walking wounded”, chief ambulance officer Peter Gavey said they had been discharged from hospital, but one person had since been admitted with “nothing serious”.
Earlier on Saturday, police said the site remained “highly unsafe” after small pockets of fire were discovered.
Andium Homes, a state-owned but independent company which rents out thousands of properties on the island, said it is focusing on supporting residents at the estate.
Gas supplier Island Energy said it was working with the fire service to “understand exactly what has happened”.
Residents of the flats have been moved to St Helier Town Hall, where they are being supported.
Justice secretary and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab tweeted: “I’m deeply saddened by the incident in Jersey this morning and my thoughts are with everyone affected.
“I commend the work of the emergency services responding and we stand ready to support in any way we can.”
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