Jonathan McCambridge, PA
A stunned silence lingers across Creeslough as the scale of the tragic blast at a service station in the tiny Co Donegal village became apparent to locals.
The picturesque settlement along the Wild Atlantic Way is popular with tourists and would usually be bustling on a Saturday morning.
Instead, locals huddled together in small groups, exchanging few words and fighting back tears as they waited for the latest news on the search operation by emergency services.
The natural beauty of the local landscape was overshadowed by a communal sense of grief as the heart-breaking news was relayed that the death toll had risen overnight from three to seven and then to nine. The latest update from gardaí, issued shortly before 3pm, confirmed 10 people have died: four men, three women, a teenage girl, a teenage boy and a girl of primary school age.
On Saturday morning, little noise could be heard in the narrow streets apart from the low rumble of machinery being used in the painstaking operation of sifting through tonnes of rubble over the sound of birdsong in the autumn sunshine.
Most locals were too upset to speak to the media, but one theme was consistent – this tragedy had impacted all of them.
Some reflected that Creeslough is a village where everybody knows everybody, and so it follows that they are all affected by the tragedy and the grief.
Minister for Agriculture and Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue struggled to put into words the scale of what had occurred.
He said: “People are just numb. It is impossible to come to terms with the enormity of what has happened here.
“It was a normal Friday afternoon in Creeslough and people were going about their normal business, calling into the local shop as they so often would do.
“For that to change irrevocably and to change forever the lives of those in this local community is devastating.
“People are rallying around each other, supporting each other. There has been a really strong response from the local community.”
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty expressed the concerns of many in the community when he said he feared there were still more people missing in the rubble.
He said: “It is complete shock, complete horror at what has unfolded in this community. Something nobody ever thought could happen in a little village like this where everyone knows each other.
“Everyone is rallying around because the scale of the loss is just devastating.
“I think we just need to take it bit by bit. It still hasn’t sunk in completely what has happened here.
“A quarter past three yesterday, kids were coming out of school, people were going to collect their welfare payments. For such a nightmare to occur, that will take some time to sink in.”
The blast shattered windows of nearby cottages and entire walls of an apartment complex above the service station had been blown apart.
As the search operation continued, two rescue workers were seen on a raised platform high above the pile of debris.
Many of those who are taking part in the operation had worked through the night.
While the explosion had ripped apart buildings, it was clear that it had also ripped right through the heart of this close-knit Co Donegal community.