A blast destroyed a three-story apartment block at about 4 a.m. on Saturday. Smith said the fire was “likely” caused by a gas explosion but it has not yet been confirmed.
Smith said the fire service had been called to the area the night before after residents reported smelling gas. He said police would investigate “whether or not there was a safety issue” with natural gas lines.
Authorities said Sunday that the search mission was now a “recovery operation” and they no longer expect to find anyone alive.
“We have moved to a recovery stage, it’s a moment to think about the families,” Smith said.
Speaking about the 12 people still missing, Smith said it was “a very sensitive area and it’s very difficult to be precise.”
“The area I can be precise on is we have three confirmed fatalities and it’s fair to say we expect to find more,” he said. “Previously we have said in the region of a dozen but it’s difficult to make that assessment. That’s the number we hope we do not get to but that is the number we are working to.”
Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom located off the coast of northern France in the English Channel.
Gas supplier Island Energy said it is working with the fire service to “understand exactly what has happened.”