A documentary on the Creeslough disaster revealed how locals used their bare hands to dig for survivors.
This was despite the fact that no one knew what caused the explosion or whether subsequent explosions were imminent.
Locals rushed to the scene and used everything at their disposal, to shift through the rubble to find survivors when the blast struck at 3.17pm on a busy Friday.
A digger driver who was hailed a hero for refusing to leave his cab until all of the casualties of the Creeslough disaster were found, said he simply did what needed to be done.
“I just wanted them out,” driver Henry Gallagher said in last night’s documentary on TG4 about the Creeslough explosion that claimed the lives of ten people last October.
Mr Gallagher, who works for Boyle Construction in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, said he thought nothing of remaining in the digger for 24 hours to ensure that everyone who died in the explosion was taken out as he sifted through the rubble.
“I would have stayed in that digger for ages,” he said in the Irish language documentary Iniúchadh TG4 – An Craoslach.
He was among the local residents, emergency services and rescuers who were honoured in the programme for their selfless efforts to pitch in when an explosion ripped through the Applegreen petrol station and shop in the Co Donegal village on October 7.
“They just did whatever needed to be done,” said a local woman who spoke of how the community rallied together like they did in the past when out cutting turf.
Lorry driver Colin Kilpatrick from Raphoe, who was making a delivery in Creeslough, was among the first rescuers on the scene who managed to free one of the casualties by using a car jack to free them from under a concrete slab.
But he said anyone who wasn’t injured just dropped what they were doing to help.
“People got out and people didn’t get out, but what we done worked,” he said.
Other locals directed traffic to free up the accident site for emergency services which began pouring into the small close-knit village from across Ireland.
Local parish priest Fr John Joe Duffy, who was also praised for his heartfelt compassion and strength following the tragedy and the grim ‘procession of wakes and funerals’ that followed, simply said: “Everyone played such a vital part.”
But as the community still reels from the tragedy and the cause of the explosion remains under investigation, the documentary revealed the ongoing devastation the explosion caused and will continue to cause for those who survived and the families of those who died.
Butcher Pádraig O’Donnell (51) who was working in Lafferty’s supermarket adjoining the petrol station and is one of the first on the scene to give an eyewitness account, said:
“It was like a scene from a horror movie. It was a Friday, and the place was very busy. I was just returning to the butcher counter when the next thing, bang. There was an explosion,” he said.
“It was very big and very loud. It was just unbelievable. It was a terrible scene.”
Despite suffering from shock, he managed to pull an elderly woman out the back door of the building. He then went back inside to help others trapped in the rubble. But he said the horror of that day will never leave him.
“I am one of the lucky ones. I am still alive, but my life is different now,” he told presenter Kevin Magee.
“I am not able to sleep, and I have nightmares. My heart is broken thinking about those who died. I can’t think about anything else. I pray for their souls. It’s not an experience you want to be in.”
The documentary aired last night despite appeals from a family to postpone it due to the rawness of the tragedy.
TG4 announced last night that it would air the documentary as planned after “having carefully considered all of the important and sensitive issues raised with us.” The programme featured a photo montage and brief description of the 10 victims of the tragedy.
They include five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe and her father Robert Garwe (50), Leona Harper (14), Hugh Kelly (59), Jessica Gallagher (24), Martin McGill (49), James O’Flaherty (48), Martina Martin (49), Catherine O’Donnell (39) and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan.
There were also grim images of local people lining the roads outside packed churches during the funerals.
A spokesperson for TG4 said the focus of the documentary “is about the ordinary people who assisted in the rescue at the scene before emergency services arrived.
“It contains interviews with some of those who risked their own lives to bring others to safety. The programme does not report anything about the victims other than what has already been reported publicly in the direct aftermath of the tragedy.”
The programme is the first in a new monthly series of current affairs and investigative documentaries that will be broadcast by TG4 this year examining the issues behind the headlines of current major Irish news stories, according to the Irish language broadcaster.
But before the documentary aired, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the Dáil yesterday: “What I’d ask TG4 to do is to perhaps sit down with the families concerned, maybe consult them, and having done that make a decision as to whether or not they’re going to postpone the airing of the documentary.”
His comments came after a father who lost his teenage daughter in the explosion said his wife and children are not ready to see the documentary.
Hugh Harper’s 14-year-old daughter Leona died in tragedy and he has joined the chorus of bereaved relatives who pleaded with TG4 to postpone it until a later date.
“We’re not looking for this not to be aired, we’re not looking for this to be put on the shelf and gather dust.
“If we had been contacted during the production of it and somebody said, ‘this is what it’s going to be, here’s some footage, take a look at it,’ maybe we wouldn’t be sitting here having this talk,” he told RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline programme.