Canadian police have confirmed five people dead and no fewer than 40 missing some 36 hours after the catastrophic derailment of an oil-laden cargo train in the Quebec town of Lac Megantic.
The 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 centre ablaze. Also, two corpses were found earlier Sunday and one on Saturday, officials said.
The train, which had been hauling crude oil from North Dakota to eastern Canada, derailed and blew up early on Saturday in the middle of Lac-Megantic, a town of 6,000 on the edge of a deep blue lake and ringed by forests of pine and birch. There was no driver on board.
It was not clear why the train began rolling down toward the town, or why the crude oil blew up. The rail line is owned by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, which said the engineer had secured the train for the night and left.
The train had five locomotives and 72 tanker cars, each carrying 30,000 gallons (113,000 liters) of crude oil. Four caught fire and exploded.
The blast at about 1 a.m. on Saturday produced a huge orange and black fireball that mushroomed hundreds of feet into the air and destroyed dozens of buildings in the centre of the town, including a bar popular with young people.
“Three bodies have been found,” Brunet told reporters on Saturday. “People have been reported missing or disappeared but … we are not going to issue a figure. We know there are going to be more deaths.”
Police said late on Saturday they had discovered the remains of one victim.
Maurice Bernier, an official who works for the county, declined to give the number of missing but said the final death toll would climb.
“It is a catastrophe,” he told Reuters.
An unofficial list drawn up by residents and posted on the Internet showed about 40 people were still unaccounted for.
Scores of people gathered at a school that was being used as a makeshift shelter.
Outside, Louise Boulet, 65, looked at a local newspaper that had published an aerial view of the explosion scene. One of the flattened buildings was the house where her 63-year old sister, Marie-France Boulet, lived.
“She is dead for sure. If she were alive, her car would not still be there,” she said, pointing to a burned out vehicle in the photo.
Marie-France ran a women’s clothing shop from the front of the building where she lived by herself.
“She was my best friend,” Louise Boulet said as tears welled in her eyes. “She died with all of my secrets and I will guard all of hers.”
About 2,000 of the town’s inhabitants were evacuated after the blast.
Residents said they were particularly concerned about people who had been inside the Musi-Cafe bar, which was right next to the centre of the blast.
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