Quebec train disaster death toll could surpass 40

About 40 people were still missing two days after a deadly explosion and fire from runway train levelled a large swath of the small lakeside town of Quebec's Lac-Mégantic, as investigators try to uncover the origins of the tragedy.


Hope was running out for about 40 people that remained missing in the eastern Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, the scene of a devastating explosion and fire caused by a runway train that was transporting crude oil.

The runaway train and its 72 oil tank cars derailed, sparking multiple blasts and wall of fire that decimated the downtown district on Saturday morning.

Five people were confirmed dead in the small Quebec community of 6,000 people, located some 250 kilomtetres east of Montreal and just west of the border with the US state of Maine.

“I can tell you that we have met a lot of people….and what I can tell you is that about 40 people are considered missing,” provincial police Lieutenant Michel Brunet told a news conference on Sunday.

“We have to be careful with that number because it could go up or down,” he added. However, police also said that a higher death toll was inevitable.

“This is an unbelievable disaster,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who toured the ruins of shops, the town library and a church on Sunday.

“This is an enormous area, 30 buildings just completely destroyed, for all intents and purposes incinerated. There isn’t a family that is not affected by this,” Harper noted.
About one-third of Lac- Mégantic’s residents were told to leave their homes, while fire fighters put out the last flames and secured the area.

Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said the water supply was not at risk but advised the lakeside community to continue to boil water before drinking it as a precautionary measure, the Montreal Gazette reported.

Investigation ongoing

Federal investigators said they have recovered the black box from the runaway train as they looked into the reasons that caused the catastrophic incident, according to the National Post.

The freight train, owned by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, had been parked by its engineer on Friday night in the nearby town of Nantes.

At some point the tanker cars came loose and began rolling down the tracks and headed to Lac-Mégantic, about 10 kilometres away.

Edward Burkhardt, the president and CEO of the parent company of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said there was no reason to suspect any criminal or terror-related activity.

In a statement, the company said the disaster “may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place.”

The train’s oil was being transported from North Dakota’s Bakken oil region to a refinery in New Brunswick.

The Quebec disaster is the fourth freight train accident in Canada under investigation involving crude oil shipments since the beginning of the year.

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