Three people have been killed in an explosion at a service station in Co Donegal, Ireland.

The explosion happened just after 3pm at the Applegreen service station on the outskirts of Creeslough, where a search operation is continuing with the help of sniffer dogs.

Photos showed a number of cars damaged by debris, with what appears to be an apartment block behind the forecourt having been largely destroyed.

Councillor John O’Donnell earlier told Sky News: “This is very, very hard here in a small rural village.

“Everybody’s completely numb here – we’re just all in shock.”

A spokesperson for Letterkenny University Hospital said soon after the explosion that it was “dealing with a serious incident, with multiple injured people requiring immediate attention”.

“The hospital has moved to Major Emergency Standby as it deals with this incident.

More on Republic Of Ireland

“We are appealing to the public not to come to the Emergency Department unless it is an emergency.”

Forecourt retailer Applegreen confirmed there was a “serious incident” at one of its dealer-operated locations.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said: “My thoughts and prayers are tonight with the entire community of Creeslough following today’s devastating explosion.

“Thinking too of all the emergency services, from across the north-west and NI working in very traumatic situation.”

TD Pearse Doherty told RTE news: “This is something that’s your worst nightmare.

“This is a quiet village, a very close-knit village, this is the only shop in the town.

“It ripped right through this building, and this was a very busy location at that point in time.”

Mr Doherty said it had left “a very, very dark cloud” over the community.

He said: “There are silent prayers being said, there are people still trapped within the building and the emergency services are doing everything that they can to remove the rubble, and people are being airlifted away to our hospitals in the region.

“There’s just quiet, it’s surreal. People are just holding on for hope, holding on to hear news, positive news coming from the emergency services.”

Among those involved in the emergency response are the Donegal County Council Fire Service with assistance by An Garda Siochana, the National Ambulance Service, Irish Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Rescue 118 Helicopter, Irish Air Corps Medivac 112, Northern Ireland Ambulance HEMS, Irish Community Air Ambulance (Ground Crew), Northern Ireland Urban Search and Rescue, Meavagh Fire Service, Donegal Mountain Rescue, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service HART team (Hazardous Area Response Team) and the Donegal County Council Civil Defence.

Residents have been asked to stay away from the area.

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said it was a “very sad and tragic day”.

He thanked Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann for the emergency crews he provided to help the situation in Creeslough.

In a post on Twitter, Mr Coveney said: “Sincere thanks for your help today Robin. Very sad and tragic day.”