Lac Megantic explosion

Devastation: The downtown of Lac Megantic, Quebec lays in ruins as fire fighters continue to water smoldering rubble on Sunday after a derailed train carrying crude oil ignited on Saturday moning
The death toll in a Quebec town that was wiped out after a runaway freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a fireball on Saturday has now risen to five.

The massive inferno in Lac-Megantic, which is about 250km from Montreal, was finally brought under control on Sunday - but as many as 40 people are still missing.

Parts of the town were evacuated in the early hours of Saturday morning as fireballs shot several meters in the air, flames spread to nearby homes and thick acrid smoke filled the air. Around 30 buildings were destroyed by the massive blaze.

'There are still people who have been reported as missing or unaccounted for,' Sûreté du Québec Lt. Michel Brunet said at a press conference. 'We can't give you a number. We know there will be other deaths. We are aware of that, but we can't give you any numbers at this time.'

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Ruins: More than 30 properties were wiped out by the massive explosion in the town at 1am on Saturday and many people are still unaccounted for
Quebec provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet said on Sunday that 40 people are missing but that the number could fluctuate. Agence France-Presse previously reported as many as 80 were missing.

One fatality was reported on Saturday and on Sunday Quebec provincial police said that four more bodies had been recovered. Their identities have not been released.

The five tankers were eventually put out with foam on Sunday morning, but the wreckage was still smouldering and firefighters swarmed the area.
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Smouldering: Burnt out oil tank cars can be seen after the flames were finally put out on Sunday. Scores of people are still missing following the explosion
Due to the massive inferno, firefighters were initially unable to access the Musi-Café, a popular bar where dozens of people were partying when the explosions occurred. They are feared dead, the Globe and Mail reported.

The train's conductor, who was in a hotel at the town at the time of the crash, is being questioned by police.

He had parked the train in Nantes, about 12km away, as he waited for someone to take over his shift, when it somehow 'got released', the railway company's vice-president Joseph McGonigle said.

It slipped downhill into the town and leveled the downtown area.
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Wiped out: The downtown was flattened by the blast, which occurred at around 1am on Saturday after the runaway train carrying oil tankers crashed
The train's engine was found about 1km from where the explosions took place, creating what authorities have described as 'a war zone'.

'We're not sure what happened, but the engineer did everything by the book. He had parked the train and was waiting for his relief,' McGonigle added.

On Saturday night, 163 people stayed in that emergency shelter. Psychological services are being provided to the community.
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Battle: Firefighters are staying 500 feet away from the tankers, meaning they cannot reach bars or buildings that were filled with scores of people in the early hours of Saturday
'It's difficult for people who still are looking for loved ones,' Myriam Marotte of the Red Cross told CTV News. 'It's also difficult for people who don't know what is going to happen in the next couple of hours and couple of days. Some people have lost everything.'

About 30 shops and homes in the town center, including the library and local weekly newspaper's office, were destroyed by the fire, which is being dealt with by firefighters from Quebec and Maine.
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Loss: Burnt out buildings are seen near the wreckage of the train derailment on Sunday morning. Families have sought refuge at a Red Cross center
'Words cannot tell the damage that had been done,' Sergeant Gregory Gomez del Prado, of Quebec Police, said. 'Many, many buildings have been damaged. It's a catastrophe for the town of course, but also for the whole province.'

Witnesses said the blast flattened an apartment building and part of a bar, which had a terrace packed with people at the time of the fire, according to CBC.
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Fears: Federique Mailloux hugs a friend as they wait outside an emergency center for news of friends following the train derailment. Officials will not release information on exactly how many are missing
Yvon Rosa had just left the bar when he saw the runaway train.

'I have never seen a train traveling that quickly into the center of Lac-Megantic,' he said. 'I saw the wagons come off the tracks ... everything exploded. In just one minute the center of the town was covered in fire.'

The ferocity of the blaze has made authorities fear for the safety of many of the lakeside town's 6,000 residents. About 120 firefighters are still trying to contain the fire in the town center.
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Inferno: The five tankers are pictured burning; they were only put out on Sunday morning when firefighters could finally get close enough
'When you see the center of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event,' the town's mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, said.

'We're told some people are missing but they may just be out of town or on vacation,' Lieutenant Michel Brunet, of Quebec police, said.
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Explosive: Balls of fire and thick smoke fill the sky above Lac Megantic after a train carrying crude oil derailed

A Facebook page has been set up to help friends and family check on their loved ones, according to the Toronto Star.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent his sympathy to the stricken town and is expected to visit later on Sunday.

'Thoughts & prayers are with those impacted in Lac Megantic. Horrible news,' he said on Twitter.

Flames could be seen from several miles away as the fire spread to several homes after the 73-car Montreal Maine & Atlantic train, which was heading towards Maine, derailed.

Zeph Kee, who lives about half an hour from Lac-Megantic, told CBC: 'It was total mayhem ... people not finding their kids.'

Resident Anne-Julie Hallee, who saw the explosion, said: 'It was like the end of the world.'

Another resident, Claude Bedard, said: 'It's terrible. We've never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.'

Only 1,000 litres of oil on board the train has been recovered, and firefighters said that all of the 73 cars were on fire, according to a press conference held in the town on Saturday afternoon.

A lot of the oil has leaked into a lake and the Chaudiere River, and plumes of thick smoke could be seen from about 10km away, nearly 10 hours after the blast.
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Locator: The Montreal Maine & Atlantic train derailed about 250km from Montreal
A 1km section of the town has been cordoned off and boats have been banned from coming close on the river, after flames were allegedly seen in two aqueducts.

'We have a mobile laboratory here to monitor the quality of the air,' Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette said.

'Firefighters are working hard to extinguish that fire, but it's burning hard because of the crude oil,' Gergeant Gomez del Prado said,adding that it would take a while for the fire to be contained.

'We also have a spill on the lake and the river that is concerning us. We have advised the local municipalities downstream to be careful if they take their water from the Chaudiere River.'
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Rescue: As the town was evacuated on Saturday morning, residents watched in horror as the fire spread
Firefighters have set up a perimeter around the town as they try to tackle the blaze, which was caused when four of the cars that were pressurized blew up.

'There are still wagons which we think are pressurized. We're not sure because we can't get close, so we're working on the assumption that all the cars were pressurized and could explode. That's why progress is slow and tough,' local fire chief Denis Lauzon said.

The cause of the derailment is not yet known. The railway company's Mr McGonigle, said the middle section of the train had derailed, the Montreal Gazette said. Investigators are headed to the town to begin gathering information and statements from witnesses.


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