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Fears for up to 40 town center revelers hit by runaway train blast: Death toll hits five and fire is STILL burning a day after oil tankers derailed and exploded in bar district
- About 30 buildings destroyed and 40 people missing in Lac Megantic
- Train conductor had locked up the trains and was waiting for another driver when it 'got released' and rolled downhill to the town
- Force of blaze preventing rescue workers from checking buildings - including a popular bar where scores of people had been partying
PUBLISHED: 15:28 GMT, 7 July 2013 | UPDATED: 21:05 GMT, 7 July 2013
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.'
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
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
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
Wiped out: The downtown was flattened by the blast, which occurred at around 1am on Saturday after the runaway train carrying oil tankers crashed
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
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
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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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.
Distraught: A concerned resident waits near an aid station on Sunday. As many as 80 are feared missing
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
Waiting: More than 160 people stayed in an emergency shelter that was set up by the Red Cross on Saturday night
Tragic: The damage caused by a runaway train carrying tons of oil can be seen in the town center of Lac-Megantic in Quebec, where scores of people are still missing and feared dead
Inferno: The five tankers are pictured burning; they were only put out on Sunday morning when firefighters could finally get close enough
Wreckage: A burnt out vehicle can be seen near the site where the oil containers exploded on Saturday
It slipped downhill into the town and leveled the downtown area.
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.
'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.'
Fireball: A cloud of fire is blasted into the sky above Lac Megantic after a freight train exploded, flattening buildings and killing residents
Explosive: Balls of fire and thick smoke fill the sky above Lac Megantic after a train carrying crude oil derailed
'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.
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.
'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.
A Facebook page has been set up to help friends and family check on their loved ones, according to the Toronto Star.
Locator: The Montreal Maine & Atlantic train derailed about 250km from Montreal
Devastation: Residents said the explosion looked the the end of the world, as thick smoke and flames filled the sky
Rescue: As the town was evacuated on Saturday morning, residents watched in horror as the fire spread
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.
Still burning: Flames and smoke pour from one of the wagons hours after the derailment
Doused: Water is sprayed on to a burning rail car close to the railway track
Rubble: The remains of a building flattened in the blast can be seen through the smoke
Pollution: Environmental workers are monitoring the plumes of smoke, as well as contamination of a river
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.'
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.