At least 80 missing in Canada train blaze
At least 80 people are missing after a driverless oil tanker train derailed and exploded in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, destroying dozens of buildings, a firefighter back from the scene said on Saturday.
The accident in the small Quebec town, located around 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Montreal, created a spectacular fireball and forced 2,000 people from their homes.
Officials earlier only confirmed one fatality, but had warned the toll could rise. A search for bodies was to begin Sunday at dawn.
The firefighter said on condition of anonymity that there had been at least 50 people in one bar that was consumed by the flames.
Witnesses reported as many as six explosions after the train derailed at about 1:20 am (0520 GMT) in Lac-Megantic, a picturesque resort town of 6,000 residents near the border with the US state of Maine.
An initial evacuation zone of a kilometer around the crash site was widened Saturday as a precaution against harmful particles in the air, bringing the total to 2,000 people forced to leave their homes.
Around 150 firefighters were battling the blaze, including some who came across the border from Maine, just 25 kilometers south of the town.
The cause of the crash was still unknown, but a spokesman for the Montreal Maine & Atlantic company, Christophe Journet, said 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.
A team of investigators from Canada’s transportation safety agency was quickly dispatched to the scene to investigate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his “thoughts and prayers” to the community and said the federal government was ready to provide assistance.
The Montreal Maine & Atlantic train consisted of five locomotives and 77 rail cars and was carrying oil from the US state of North Dakota, said the company’s vice president of marketing, Joe McGonigle.
But Quebec authorities spoke of 72 cars transporting 100 tonnes of oil each. “Around 10 cars have been secured and separated from the train,” the Quebec emergency agency said in a statement.
The Montreal Maine & Atlantic company has a network of more than 800 kilometers through Quebec and New Brunswick provinces and the neighbouring US states of Maine and Vermont.