Rescuers worked through the night after the explosion in Jersey's capital

Saint Helier (Jersey) (AFP) - Rescuers in Jersey said Sunday after an all-night search that there was no hope of survivors from an explosion that flattened a three-storey apartment block.

At least three people were confirmed killed in the blast early Saturday in the Channel island’s port capital St Helier, following a suspected gas leak.

“We have three confirmed fatalities and it’s fair to say we expect to find more,” police chief Robin Smith told a news conference, saying that around 12 residents remained unaccounted for.

“It is with sadness that I am confirming that the search-and-rescue operation has been moved to a recovery operation,” he said.

The next phase involved a “meticulous and painstaking search of the debris” which could take weeks, Smith said, adding that a gas leak was the “likely” cause.

Aided by sniffer dogs and experts from southern England, Jersey emergency workers had searched the rubble overnight.

Fire chief Paul Brown confirmed that firefighters were called out to investigate the smell of gas on Friday evening, more than seven hours before the explosion.

He conceded that something had gone “horribly wrong” given the subsequent disaster, but insisted that Jersey islanders could still have confidence in his service.

Jersey’s gas supplier, Island Energy, said it was working with the fire service to understand what happened.

Like many others in St Helier, Jersey’s Chief Minister Kristina Moore said she was awoken by the blast.

“Across the island you could hear this extraordinary sound,” she told the BBC.

“It’s unthinkable news, we’re all absolutely devastated and really concerned for the people who are involved, for those whose lives have been lost.”

The incident caps a tragic week for Jersey, a British Crown dependency not part of the United Kingdom, whose economy relies on banking, tourism and fishing.

The coastguard Friday abandoned a search for three Jersey fishermen missing for nearly 36 hours after their wooden boat hit a cargo ship and sank.

The freighter is owned by Condor Ferries, whose Jersey offices lie near the destroyed apartment block.

“We must call on the collective strength of the island community,” Moore said.