Body of male found at site of Sydney explosion

Last updated 03:13 05/09/2014
Sydney explosion
PETER RAE/Fairfax Australia

SEARCHING: Rescue crews work with sniffer dogs.

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As firefighters worked into the night to remove a body from the wreckage of a Rozelle building destroyed by an explosion, hopes faded of finding a young mother and her baby son alive.

Rescue workers had heard no sound from the rubble by late last night, 15 hours after the blast was felt across Sydney's inner west.

Firefighters found the body of a male among the remains of the Darling Street convenience store about 4.30pm on Thursday, 12 hours after the explosion.

Three people were reported missing after the early morning blast - Bianka O'Brien, 31, her 12-month-old son, Jude, and neighbour Chris Noble, 30.

Mrs O'Brien's distraught husband, John, who wasn't home when the unit was swallowed by fire, arrived at the scene on Thursday morning and was being comforted by friends.

Hours after it was discovered, the body remained in place because of fears the site was unstable and the walls of adjoining buildings on either side of the shop could collapse, Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Ian Krimmer said.

"It doesn't mean that the walls are going to collapse," he told reporters gathered at the site on Thursday night. "We simply don't know.

"If we go in there too quickly ... it could cause the walls to collapse on either side."

Superintendent Krimmer said they could not confirm the identity of the victim and had to speak to the families of the three people missing before they informed the public.

Firefighters searching the rubble brick by brick had not heard any sounds coming from the remains of the building, he said.

But searchers would hang on to hopes of finding alive the two people still unaccounted for.

"Until we can locate the other two people, we still hold hopes.""When we say brick by brick, we mean that literally," he said.

Police say they are treating the explosion as suspicious until they know otherwise.

It is believed Ms O'Brien is the sister of James Keremelevski, who owns a mobile phone store next to the convenience store that was obliterated by the explosion.

It is understood her husband, John O'Brien, was not home at the time of the explosion. He has spoken with police.

Mr Noble works for an air conditioning company and it is understood he lives at the site of the blast.

His colleagues were in contact with his family.

Fairfax Media has been told a meeting of all staff at the company will be convened on Friday morning.

"It's still a bit early and a bit raw," one colleague said. "Everyone's still holding out hope."

Before the body was found, emergency services described the mission as one of "search and rescue" and said the effort was "painstaking".

Three men were taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital with various injuries after the blast, including the owner of the convenience store, who was found with serious head and leg injuries, covered in rubble and trapped under a commercial fridge.

Two men are believed to have jumped from the first floor to the ground to escape the blaze and suffered minor injuries.

Police have spent much of the day searching side streets and back lanes for any evidence that might help them to find out who and what sparked the explosion.

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Superintendent Paul Johnstone, from Fire and Rescue NSW, said small cameras were being used to to inspect areas that firefighters could not immediately get to.

Investigators believe the explosion is suspicious, but have not commented on witness reports that a car was seen by garbage collectors speeding away from the convenience store moments before the explosion.

Inspector Gary Coffey, of Leichhardt police, said fire investigators were yet to search the convenience store thoroughly to determine the cause of the fire. He would not comment on the report of the speeding car.

"We're still in the process of trying to gather witnesses and information about exactly what occurred in the moments before the fire started," he said.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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