A coroner’s court has heard how hotels and nearby buildings were evacuated and guests rescued from bedrooms in the wake of an early-morning gas explosion at a Killarney town centre laundrette three years ago.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death in accordance with the medical findings at the inquest into the death of 59-year-old James Gleeson, the owner of the laundry, on July 13, 2013.
One woman was stranded in an apartment over the building at the centre of the explosion and rubble and clothing were blown onto rooftops. The laundrette was demolished and there was a strong smell of gas from the premises.
A number of guests were trapped in bedrooms at the nearby International Hotel and were rescued by the fire service.
Within hours, everyone was accounted for and safe, except the owner of the laundry, Mr Gleeson, a married father of one, from Countess Rd.
Mr Gleeson would normally leave home to start work early and this Saturday in July was set to be busy. He was arranging to join his wife, Grace O’Neill, and son Eoin, then aged 18, later that day in Kilkenny. They had gone to visit her parents the previous day, Ms O’Neill said in a deposition read for her by Superintendant Flor Murphy.
Calls started coming into Killarney Garda Station at around 6.20am of “an explosion”. When they arrived on the scene the laundrette was destroyed and there was a strong smell of gas. This was “a major incident”, Garda witnesses told the inquest.
Tractors, diggers, and cranes were called in to deal with large amount of rubble as well as loose beams and girders. The Health & Safety Authority was also on the scene.
There was no evidence of any criminal act, said Garda James O’Brien, an expert mechanical equipment examiner.
Mr Gleeson’s body was discovered by a fireman on Sunday and was identified by his lifelong friend, John Maguire. He had suffered injuries in accordance with a gas explosion, and had died as a result, Dr Margot Bolster had found.
Coroner for South Kerry Terence Casey, who knew the deceased, said Mr Gleeson’s death was “a terrible loss” and the scene had been devastating. “Nobody could have survived it,” he said.
The coroner thanked the neighbours of the Gleesons — whose premises had been extensively damaged, yet who stood by the bereaved family, despite the loss of business.
“Their businesses were closed but nobody complained because they sympathised with your tragic loss,” the coroner told Grace, Eoin, and Donagh, the late Mr Gleeson’s brother.
The coroner also thanked the emergency services, gardaí, and fire service personnel.
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