‘It took 24 hours before we got her’

The parents of 14-year-old Leona Harper, one of the 10 who lost their lives in the Creeslough blast, have spoken on local radio about the agonizing wait for their daughter’s remains to be returned and how she will be missed.

Donna and Hugh Harper told Highland Radio they had been treated “from start to finish” with nothing but respect. Mrs Harper paid tribute to the digger driver who worked tirelessly to find Leona. “He didn’t stop until he got her. “It was 24 hours before we got her. She was the last one taken out. “The doctors and everyone were amazing. They treated the whole thing from start to finish with nothing but respect”.

After the explosion Friday afternoon, the Harpers had an unsettling wait, first being told their daughter was trapped in the building, but also that there was a possibility she had been moved to the hospital.

Harper described her daughter as “a little gem”.

“She was very outgoing, very friendly, a lovely person. She was very quiet and laid back. She loved life, she loved the outdoors, walking through fields, fishing, spending time with her friends, going to car shows.” Mr Harper said that as everyone would say of their daughter, “she was very special”. “She will be sorely missed”.

The parish church of St Michael’s in Creeslough, Co Donegal will hold back-to-back funerals for the victims of the tragedy from as early as tomorrow.

The first funeral will be Jessica Gallagher (24), a fashion designer who was due to start a new job in Belfast today. Her funeral will be held on Tuesday at 11.00, followed by funeral Mass for Martin McGill (49) at 2 p.m. James O’Flaherty (48), a married father of one originally from Sydney, Australia but living in Dunfanaghy, will be laid to rest after a funeral on Wednesday at St Mary’s Church in Bunbeg. Further details of the funerals for the other victims have not yet been released.

The Irish Red Cross has set up a fund to help the community in Creeslough. The fund is established with support from Applegreen and An Post. The public can make donations at www.redcross.ie.

Books of condolence for the 10 people who died have been opened in Derry, Belfast and Dublin. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Caroline Conroy, opened an online book of condolences from today, Monday 10 October until Thursday 20 October. All messages of sympathy will be printed and forwarded in a book to Donegal County Council.

Archbishop Eamon Martin is due to visit Creeslough this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin visited the village at the weekend and President Michael D Higgins is expected in Creeslough early this week.

Meanwhile, Donegal-based Brendan O’Connor, chairman of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), has said that no level of training could have prepared gardaí for what they experienced in Cresslough at the weekend.

Gardaí had a dual role to play in such circumstances – providing support to the community but also conducting a full investigation, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show. Supports would be put in place for members of the force, but they “haven’t taken a breath yet” so it would be some time before they could use them, he added.

Sir. O’Connor said the force could not have done anything on Friday without the mobilization of the community. Everyone played a role through their collective efforts.

There were many people working behind the scenes all weekend, “not just the people in the yellow vests”.

The real heroes were the construction workers and farmers who quickly rallied to provide the equipment to help with the rescue effort. It was very dangerous, “those people were risking their lives” to create an environment where the emergency services could do their work, he explained. “I cannot stress the importance of the work they did”.

There was no one in the village who had not played a role in the aftermath of the blast, he said.

Meanwhile, Donegal singer Daniel O’Donnell was at Chicago airport about to board a flight to Dublin when he heard the latest news about the explosion in Creeslough. When he arrived in Dublin he was told the full extent of the disaster, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

“Everyone knows someone in Donegal. Ireland is like that,” he added. At the airport he met a young woman who told him that her husband’s first cousin was one of the victims.

There were no words to express how people must have felt. Creeslough being such a small community everyone knew everyone and many were related it was “beyond understanding” what had happened.

He had been to the shop and paid for diesel during the summer. “That’s what someone did, not knowing what was in front of them. In that split second, their life was changed. It’s unbearable to think about.”

The singer attended a memorial service in Dublin on Sunday evening, which consisted mostly of music and meditation. There were 10 candles on the altar representing the 10 victims.

“All we can do is pray for them, that’s all we can do at this point”. There was nothing that could be said or done to take away the sense of loss experienced by the people who had lost loved ones, he said.

Sir. O’Donnell urged survivors, even those who had no physical injuries, not to “hold in” their emotions and to seek help. This was important as problems such as nervousness could develop “down the road”.

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