LAC MEGANTIC, Canada (3rd Update) – Five people were confirmed dead Sunday, July 7, and at least 40 missing some 36 hours after the catastrophic derailment of an oil-laden cargo train in the Quebec town of Lac Megantic, police said.
Police spokesman Michel Brunet told reporters two more bodies had been discovered a day after the train jumped its track and set a large part of the town’s center ablaze. Two corpses were found earlier Sunday and one on Saturday, officials said.
The accident devastated the center of this small town 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Montreal, and forced about 2,000 to flee their homes there.
Saturday’s crash of an oil-laden train and subsequent explosions decimated the center of the village of Lac-Megantic, which has a population of just 6,000 people.
The explosion completely leveled more than four blocks of the town’s downtown area, and it took firefighters 18 hours to contain the inferno — and at least two oil-tanker cars continue to burn, firefighters said Sunday.
Brunet had said Saturday that the fire was so intense investigators couldn’t go anywhere near the devastated downtown neighborhood.
Witnesses said they heard the train pass by at what seemed like a greater than usual speed, then careen off the rails and erupt into flames.
Survivors of the explosion described a wall of flames as the fuel-laden cars left the tracks as dozens of people enjoyed a summer night in bars and on restaurant in the center of town.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway said in a statement Saturday that the train had been transporting 72 carloads of crude oil when it derailed at around 1:20 a.m. (1720 GMT)
“No conductor on board”
A spokesman for the rail line, Christophe Journet, told AFP the train had been stopped in the neighboring town of Nantes, around 13 kilometers west of Lac-Megantic, for a crew changeover.
For an unknown reason, Journet said, the train “started to advance, to move down the slope leading to Lac-Megantic,” even though the brakes were engaged.
As a result, “there was no conductor on board” when the train crashed, he said.
Scores of firefighters from around the region and from the United States state of Maine were enlisted to battle the blaze, which was under investigation by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB).
One witness, Nancy Cameron, posted a photo on social media websites showing one of the train’s locomotives spouting flames near Nantes.
Other witnesses were in Lac-Megantic when the train came barreling in.
“When we came out of a bar, we saw cars arriving in the center of town at full speed,” Yvon Rosa told Radio-Canada.
“We heard explosions and there was fire everywhere. We ran to the edge of the water,” Rosa said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday offered his “thoughts and prayers” to the community and said the federal government was ready to provide assistance.
Provincial authorities said in addition to their recovery efforts, they have dispatched a mobile environmental monitoring laboratory to monitor air quality and to determine how much crude oil spilled into Lake Megantic and the nearby Chaudiere River
Meanwhile, the Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at an area high schools to help those left homeless by the disaster. – Rappler.com