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Quebec town devastated in deadly train explosion

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-07

At least five people were reported dead after a runaway train carrying crude oil exploded in a Quebec town on Saturday, forcing mass evacuations and leaving fires raging more than 24 hours later.

Fires continued burning more than 24 hours after several train cars carrying crude oil derailed in eastern Quebec on Saturday, igniting explosions that destroyed a town’s centre and left at least five people dead.

Police said they expected the death toll to increase.

The eruptions sent residents of Lac-Megantic scrambling through the streets under the intense heat of towering fireballs and a red glow that illuminated the night sky, witnesses said. Flames and billowing black smoke could still be seen long after the 73-car train derailed.

Up to 2,000 people were forced from their homes in the lakeside town of 6,000 people, which is about 155 miles (250 kilometres) east of Montreal and about 10 miles (16 kilometres) west of the border separating Quebec from the state of Maine.

Provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet confirmed that one person had died.

He refused to say how many others might be dead, but said authorities have been told “many” people have been reported missing.

‘A ghost train’

Interviewed by FRANCE 24, Canadian journalist Paul Journet, of Montreal-based daily La Presse, said details were starting to emerge about what exactly caused the accident.

“It was basically a ghost train,” Journet reported from the area. “The conductor left the train and checked in at the hotel. For reasons still unknown, the train started moving, moved for a kilometre, gained much speed and then four wagons detached and exploded in the middle of the night.”

The four tanker rail cars exploded in the downtown, a popular area packed with bars that is often bustling on summer weekend nights.

Police said the first explosion tore through the town shortly after 1am local time, destroying at least 30 buildings.

The fire then spread to several homes.

Firefighters, including some from nearby Maine, doused the blaze for hours.

Meanwhile, rescue workers from several neighboring municipalities, including Sherbrooke and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, were called in to help deal with the disaster.

Local fire chief Denis Lauzon described the scene as one akin to a war zone.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his sympathy in a statement, adding: “The people of Lac-Megantic and surrounding areas can rest assured that our government is monitoring the situation and we stand by ready to provide any assistance requested by the province.”

Impact across the border?

The train, reportedly heading toward Maine, belongs to Montreal Maine & Atlantic. According to the railroad’s website, the company owns more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Last week, a train carrying petroleum products derailed in Calgary, Alberta, when a flood-damaged bridge sagged toward the still-swollen Bow River. The derailed rail cars were removed without spilling their cargo.

The Quebec accident was likely to have an impact across the border. In Maine, environmentalists and state officials had previously raised concerns about the threat of an accident and a spill from railroad tank cars carrying crude oil across the state.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has begun developing protection plans for the areas where the trains travel, spokeswoman Samantha Warren said recently.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-07