The people of Creeslough are living through ‘a nightmare of shock and horror’ as the extent of Friday’s devastating explosion comes to light.
All 10 victims of the blast at the petrol station were named yesterday shortly after hundreds came to pay their respects at a Mass in the Donegal village.
Five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe was the youngest victim of the blast, killed instantly alongside her father, Robert Garwe, 50.
Pictured: A member of An Garda brings flowers to the scene of an explosion at Applegreen service station in the village of Creeslough in Co Donegal, where ten people have now been confirmed dead. The victims were identified on Sunday
Speaking at the packed Sunday Mass in the village’s St Michael’s Church, Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian described the tragedy as ‘an experience that we are living through together’. Pictured: Father John Joe Duffy lights ten red candles candles at the church on Sunday
She was buying a cake as a treat for her mother when the shop’s roof came crashing down, just one of the heartbreaking details that have emerged about the final moments of three children and seven adults who perished.
Speaking at the packed Sunday Mass in the village’s St Michael’s Church, Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian described the tragedy as ‘an experience that we are living through together’.
‘But we recognise that the trauma is different for every single individual. We hold in our hearts most especially those for whom this is most acute,’ he said. ‘At this time, you, the people of Creeslough, are living through a nightmare of shock and horror since the very heart of the community was deeply wounded on Friday afternoon.’
The explosion has been described as a ‘tragic accident’ with an investigation under way to determine the cause. The blast is suspected to have been the result of a gas leak.
All ten victims were named yesterday. They are: James O’Flaherty, 48; Jessica Gallagher, 24; Martin McGill, 49; Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her son James Monaghan, 13; Hugh Kelly, 59; Martina Martin, 49; Robert Garwe, 50 and his daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe, 5; and Leona Harper, 14.
Their remains are currently at Letterkenny University Hospital where postmortem examinations have commenced under the direction of Dr Heidi Okkers, the assistant State pathologist.
One man in his 20s remains in a critical condition in St James’s Hospital, Dublin, while the seven other survivors continue to receive treatment in nearby Letterkenny University Hospital.
Lives snatched in a split second: The 10 victims of the petrol station blast
Robert Garwe, 50, and Shauna Flanagan Garwe, 5
Robert, 50, died alongside his five-year-old daughter in the explosion.
He and little Shauna visited the petrol station at Creeslough intending to buy a cake for her mother, but were killed moments after entering the store.
Robert is understood to originally be from Zambia, but moved to the picturesque Donegal village about a year ago with other members of their family. His five-year-old daughter Shauna was the youngest victim of the explosion at the Applegreen station.
The news of the loss of such a young life devastated the country yesterday, as her family released an image of the girl in her school uniform.
The little girl’s brother, who moved to Donegal from the UK, was among those who kept a vigil at the site of the explosion over the weekend.
Robert Garwe (left), 50, died alongside his five-year-old daughter (right) in the explosion. He and little Shauna visited the petrol station at Creeslough intending to buy a cake for her mother, but were killed moments after entering the store
James Monaghan, 13, and mother Catherine O’Donnell
James Monaghan (right) was at the store with his mother, Catherine O’Donnell (left), when they were killed
James Monaghan was at the store with his mother, Catherine O’Donnell, when they were killed. The 13-year-old was a student at Mulroy College in Milford.
Psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Service and Donegal Education and Training Board have also offered advice and guidance to ensure the wellbeing of students and families.
Dr Martin Gormley, of Donegal ETB, said it is difficult to put into words the impact of the tragedy on the community. ‘I wish to compliment the emergency and health services, the school management and staff and the educational psychologists on their response to this critical incident,’ he said.
‘We extend our sympathies to all the families and we now wish all those injured a speedy recovery following the accident.
‘This is a tragedy that is difficult to put words on.’
James O’Flaherty, 48
Australian James O’Flaherty’s achievements as an engineering director were renowned. During his career, he managed large-scale software engineering and electrical engineering projects worth more than €100million.
James was well-known within his community and worked as a director for Jabil, an American manufacturing services company. He spent years studying and working in Australia, securing an MBA in Business Administration and management at the university of Tasmania.
A former client of his described James as a man ‘loaded with enthusiasm, energy and insight’.
‘James’s drive and dedication has allowed for multiple deliveries of successful projects,’ said Shaun Struwig.
‘He has the ability to communicate at a very high-level, but understands all the technical details, providing comfort in project delivery.
‘Loaded with enthusiasm, energy and insight, offering excellent and practical solutions in often very trying and difficult situations, approaching challenges with innovative ideas, and sharing these in an open and constructive manner. James, being a great team player, would be an asset to any company.’
Australian James O’Flaherty (pictured) was well-known within his community and worked as a director for Jabil, an American manufacturing services company
Hugh Kelly, 59
At 59, Hugh was the eldest victim in the tragedy, and has been described as a ‘gentleman’. It was reported last night that he worked in construction and was in a long-term relationship.
At 59, Hugh Kelly (pictured) was the eldest victim in the tragedy
Martina Martin, 49
Martina was working behind the counter at the Applegreen service station when she was killed in the tragic blast
Martina was working behind the counter at the Applegreen service station when she was killed in the tragic blast. She was mother to a student at Mulroy College in Milford.
Fiona Temple, principal of Mulroy College said the school, staff and pupils are distraught by the loss of those within the school community.
‘We as a school community are devastated on hearing of the tragedy and the fatal outcome for our two beautiful students and our cherished parents. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and the Creeslough community at this time,’ she said.
‘We are numbed by this overwhelming sadness and will work together to support all members of our school community in the coming days, weeks and months ahead.’
Leona Harper, 14
Leona is believed to have entered the service station on Friday afternoon with her friend to buy ice cream after school.
Leona Harper (pictured) is believed to have entered the service station on Friday afternoon with her friend to buy ice cream after school
She was later planning to go to a sleepover at her friend’s house.
The 14-year-old was killed while choosing an ice cream from the fridge, while her friend was left injured.
Her devastated brother, Anthony Harper, paid a moving tribute to her, saying he couldn’t have asked for ‘a better little sister’.
‘Leona, I love you so much and we all love you so much,’ he wrote on Facebook.
Leona, who was a student at Mulroy College, was also remembered over the weekend as a talented rugby player, playing for Letterkenny RFC under-14s.
Her local club Letterkenny described Harper as a ‘talented rugby player’ and a key member of their under-14s girls team.
Both Ulster and Leinster have paid tribute to Harper following her tragic passing.
‘We offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Leona Harper, who lost her life in Creeslough, Co. Donegal,’ Ulster Rugby stated on social media.
Martin McGill, 49
Martin McGill was among the victims of the petrol station explosion
Locals yesterday recalled seeing Martin McGill’s car outside the petrol station soon after the blast, while his frantic mother rang the local pharmacy in search of him.
It was soon discovered that the 49-year-old was among the victims.
Martin was a carer for his mother, and was described by local pharmacist Fergus Brennan as an ‘exceptional young man’.
He added: ‘Martin was a very regular visitor, because he was a carer. He was so well liked and loved, and looked after his parents, most recently this mum, with such dedication and love’.
Jessica Gallagher, 24
Jessica Gallagher (pictured)had recently returned to her home town of Creeslough from Paris, where it is understood she was studying design
Jessica had recently returned to her home town of Creeslough from Paris.
It is understood the 24-year-old was studying design in the French capital, but had recently moved home.
She is said to be from a family of talent musicians and artists. Her boyfriend was among those injured in the
explosion, and was taken to a specialist burns unit, where his condition was described as critical.
Local visual artist, Ian Joyce, who knew Ms Gallagher said that he was ‘shocked’ by her death.
‘I knew a young woman who died in the blast… She lived in Paris for a number of years, and she had just moved home. She was a designer,’ he said.
‘The best of people in worst of situations’.
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Taoiseach Micheal Martin visited the injured casualties yesterday morning before meeting some of the first responders.
Near the scene of the gutted structure, Garda Superintendent Liam Geraghty said what has happened will have ‘a huge impact to a small rural community’.
He said: ‘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. 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.’
He revealed that there were ‘very traumatic scenes’ on Friday afternoon. ‘Emergency responders from right across Co. Donegal and wider and our colleagues in Northern Ireland responded to very, very traumatic scenes, and then processed into dealing with recovery of fatalities at the scene,’ he said.
A major incident was declared after a gas explosion at a petrol station in County Donegal on Friday afternoon
Members of the fire service attend the disaster at Creeslough in County Donegal, which saw ten people lose their lives
Emergency services attend the scene following the deadly explosion at a petrol station in an Applegreen station, Donegal
Most of the gardaí who first arrived on the scene of the blast were local residents who knew many of the victims personally. Two of the people who came out to pay their respects at the religious service were the service station’s owners, sibl ings Danny and Annette Lafferty.
They had been involved in the grocery store for decades and had learned their trade from their father, Danny Sr. Looking visibly shaken, Danny and Annette could not bring themselves to comment on the scale of the tragedy.
Consultant in emergency medicine, Dr Gerry Lane, who arrived on the scene shortly after the explosion, and praised the ‘heroic’ efforts of local people who searched for those trapped, despite the ‘ext raordinar i ly hazardous situation’.
He said: ‘There were multiple ambulance resources already there, paramedics retrieving people from the environment, aided and assisted by the heroic local people. The best of people in the worst of situations. The adrenaline drive that those people were showing, the love that they were showing for their community, for their friends and for their family.
‘I was amazed by that, but I was terrified. I know it’s probably not appropriate to say for this particular situation, but this incident could have been so very much worse,’ he said.
He continued: ‘I saw people in shorts and flip flops wrenching corrugated iron off the canopy with their bare, naked hands and throwing it away to get at people.
‘Those people, heroic, were placing themselves in a great deal of danger and they could have been injured, and indeed we did have three rescuers injured over the course of the evening. My heart goes out to those three rescuers.’
Dr Lane, who said one girl who was killed had visited his home many times, recalled how resources such as ventilators, blood banks, and three helicopters were quickly made available to the rescue effort.
Brian Dolan arrived on the scene of the disaster just seconds after an explosion ripped through the building of the Applegreen service station. He told of how the first person he came across was a young girl covered in cuts and bruises.
He said: ‘She wasn’t as bad as others but she was very disorientated and she was about seven or eight years old. All she wanted to do was go back and get her ice cream. She must have been in the shop for ice cream. I just lifted her up and brought her out.
‘It was just a terrible scene but people were great. We formed a queue and people just lifted bits of debris from the area,’ he said.
Mr Dolan added: ‘You go into auto-drive. The people of the community were brilliant. Dozens of people helped. We cleared a path from the forecourt into the shop and went in. We knew it was serious. We had to get a road clear for the emergency services. We just did what we were able to do.
‘The first thing was the building. You don’t really think and you just dig in. Radiators, panels, you name it was thrown about just trying to get a path in. It didn’t feel as if it took very long.
‘We knew who was there. We knew by the cars and we knew who worked there. I don’t think anyone was thinking about what they were doing. There was no plan and no real thoughts.
‘They were just normal members of the community going about a normal routine on a Friday and it was just a normal day until a boom came over our wee parish.’
Emergency services at the scene of an explosion at Applegreen service station
Emergency workers in a cherry picker searching for the injured and missing
Floral tributes have been placed outside the scene of the tragedy in Creeslough
Mr Dolan revealed how his wife Margaret Ann only left the post office attached to the service station just minutes before the blast.
A post office receipt shows a time of 3.08pm with the blast happening at around 3.15pm.
Mr Dolan’s daughter avoided going to the shop but decided to go to Dunnes Stores in Letterkenny because she had a voucher to spend.
Mr Dolan added: ‘We haven’t got much sleep thinking about it and all the ifs and buts and what might have been.
‘I’m sure there are plenty of stories like that out there but you have to count your blessings.’
Details are beginning to emerge about the 10 lives that were lost in the explosion.
Leona Harper, 14, died while choosing an ice cream from the fridge in the petrol station shop. Youth section chairman of Letterkenny Rugby Club, Jeremy Worth, praised Leona, remarking: ‘It was clear she was developing into a fantastic young player.
Leona was always simply a lovely young person. It was a pleasure to be in her company. Taken too soon, Leona will be missed sadly by her team-mates, her coaches and the rugby community in Letterkenny.
‘I don’t think we really understand it yet. We obviously have team-mates of Leona’s at a very tender age who will be struggling very much to come to terms with this,’ he said.
Fergus Brennan, of Brennan’s Pharmacy in the village, recalled staff receiving a ‘frantic’ phone call from the mother of one of the victims, Martin McGill, 49, as she was searching for his whereabouts.
Mr Brennan said Martin was the first victim he became aware of: ‘Martin was a very regular visitor, because he was a carer.
‘An exceptional young man who was so well liked and loved, and looked after his parents, most recently this mum, with such dedication and love. That was the first human face of the story for us at Brennan’s.’
He also recalled meeting fiveyear-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe in the pharmacy, remarking: ‘Shauna, we all remember so well. She is a delightful, energetic little girl, and she was one of those kids who when she was in the pharmacy, always asked for a lollipop.
‘Just looking at the photographs now that have been released, I know all of these faces and it just brings home the extent of this tragedy.’
He also acknowledged the difficult road now facing the small community. He said: ‘I think right now, people are in utter shock and disbelief… there is a quiet silence. I think people are supporting each other at home, trying to come to terms that this has even happened.
‘In the weeks ahead, the families of the bereaved and the injured have such a difficult journey to travel and I have no doubt… the whole county of Donegal will rally around the families. Donegal is a county famous for support particularly at the time of loss and grief and death.’
Leona along with teenage victim James Monaghan had attended Mulroy College in Milford. Victims Catherine O’Donnell and Martina Martin had also children in the school. Fiona Temple, principal of Mulroy College, said the school, staff and pupils are devastated.
She said: ‘We are numbed by this overwhelming sadness and will work together to support all members of our school community in the coming days, weeks and months ahead.
‘Our priority, as a school management and staff, is the wellbeing and welfare of the students and their families at this tragic time. We extend our best wishes to all those who suffered injuries including some of our students.’
There were also a number of students who incurred injuries at the scene. Psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Service and Donegal ETB have offered advice and guidance to ensure the wellbeing of students and families was a priority.
The school will open as normal today and numerous supports will be available to support students, staff and parents.