LAC-MEGANTIC, CANADA // More bodies were discovered yesterday after a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed in eastern Quebec, igniting explosions and fires that destroyed a town's downtown centre.
The death toll was five and 40 people were missing.
Fires were preventing rescuers from reaching part of the 73-car train, and billowing black smoke could still be seen long after it derailed. The eruptions on Saturday sent residents of Lac-Megantic scrambling through the streets under the intense heat of towering fireballs and a red glow that illuminated the night sky.
Quebec provincial police lieutenant Michel Brunet said yesterday there are more dead among the missing. Police have refused to give any estimate of people unaccounted for because police were having difficulty getting a fixed number.
"We know there will be more deaths," Lt Brunet said.
The multiple blasts came over a span of several hours in the town of 6,000, which is about 250 kilometres east of Montreal. About 30 buildings were destroyed after tanker cars laden with oil caught fire.
The derailment caused several tanker rail cars to explode in the downtown, a popular area packed with bars that often bustles on summer weekend nights. Police said the first explosion tore through the town shortly after 1am local time. The fire then spread to several homes.
The head of the train's operator, Rail World, said the train was parked uphill of the community, but it was believed the brakes were properly applied.
Myrian Marotte, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Red Cross in Lac-Megantic, said yesterday there are about 2,000 evacuees and said 163 stayed at their operations centre overnight.
"There are those are still looking for loved ones," Ms Marotte said.
Many of the evacuees are staying with family and friends. "Some people have lost everything," she said.
Lines of tall trees in the area looked like giant standing matchsticks, blackened from bottom to tip. Witnesses said the eruptions sent many shook residents out of their slumber and sent them darting through the streets.
Patrons gathered by a nearby bar were sent running for their lives after the thunderous crash and wall of fire blazed through the early morning sky.
Firefighters and rescue workers from several neighbouring municipalities, including Sherbrooke and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, were called in to help deal with the disaster. Firefighters from northern Maine were also deployed to the Quebec town, according to a spokesman at the sheriff's office in Franklin County.
The prime minister, Stephen Harper, planned to visit the town yesterday.
The train, reportedly heading towards the US state of Maine, belongs to Montreal Maine & Atlantic.
Last week a train carrying petroleum products derailed in Calgary, Alberta, when a flood-damaged bridge sagged toward the still-swollen Bow River. The derailed rail cars were removed without spilling their cargo.
The Quebec accident was likely to have an effect across the border. In Maine, environmentalists and state officials had previously raised concerns about the threat of an accident and a spill from railway tank cars carrying crude oil across the state.
The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway carried nearly 3 million barrels of oil across Maine last year. Each tank car holds 113,600 litres of oil.