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LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An explosion at a service station in a small town in Ireland was “the darkest day” in the county of Donegal, according to the local bishop.

At least nine people have been confirmed killed after Friday’s explosion in Creeslough, a small village of nearly 400 people located in the far north of the country, in a part of Ulster located in the Republic of Ireland but near the border with Northern Ireland. Eight people were injured in the blast.

The gas station also contained the village’s main shop and post office. The blast levelled the building and damaged an adjacent residential building.

“I am deeply saddened at the loss of life and at the extent of injuries caused,” said Alan McGuckian of Raphoe.

“In the wake of this heart-breaking human tragedy, I am asking all parishes in the Diocese of Raphoe to come together to pray at Mass this weekend, so that people can offer comfort and support to each other and to all who are suffering. God always walks with us, in light and in dark, so let us embrace the power of prayer at this time of need and He will be there for us,” the bishop said in a statement on Saturday.

“Last night I went to Cresslough to offer pastoral support. I met and prayed with family members who are in terrible shock and pain. In order to offer a supportive presence today, I will be in Cresslough with Bishop Andrew Forster, Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, to meet and pray with bereaved family members, friends and neighbors of the deceased and injured,” he continued.

(The Church of Ireland is the Anglican denomination on the island.)

“I have witnessed at first hand the immediate reaction of the local community to the tragedy who, in their bravery, took risks at the site to help others even to the detriment of their own safety. I wish to commend the first responders, and the emergency services of Donegal and Derry, for their high level of professional cooperation and rapid response,” McGuckian said.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said it was one of the “darkest of days for Donegal and the entire country.”

“People across this island will be numbed by the same sense of shock and utter devastation as the people of Creeslough at this tragic loss of life,” Martin said.

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue, who represents Donegal in Ireland’s parliament, said the service station was well known across the country because of its prominent position on the main N56 road, and was “the heart” of the local community.

“People are shocked and numbed,” he told Irish broadcaster RTE. “People have been rallying together and everyone’s concern is with the families of those who have lost their loved ones and how they can support them in the days ahead.”

Emergency responders from Ireland and neighboring Northern Ireland are involved in what police said was now a “search and recovery” operation. Sniffer dogs combed the debris, and a mechanical digger lifted piles of rubble from the site.

Father John Joe Duffy celebrated Mass at St Michael’s Church in Creeslough on Saturday morning to pray for those killed and injured in the disaster.

“From our hearts, with all our hearts and with all our souls we pray for those who have died, we pray for those who were injured, we pray for all who were involved. We pray for those who are there continuing to help and have helped since yesterday,” he said.

“We pray also for those family members who are bereaved, and we pray for those who still are waiting news. We keep them all very much in our hearts. Let us pray God’s peace in all our hearts and all our souls and for those suffering most this morning,” the priest continued.

Speaking later to the Press Association, Duffy described the community as “broken-hearted” and “lost for words.”

“What I’m appealing for is for the prayers of the people across this county and across the country, to pray for us, to help us and to give us strength to get through these difficult hours and difficult days that may lay ahead,” the priest said.

This article incorporates material from the Associated Press.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome