7 Jul 2013

Train explosion razes centre of Canadian town

9:58 pm on 7 July 2013

Police have said they expect more people to be found dead after a runaway train carrying light crude oil exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic.

The blast sent a fireball and black smoke into the air, killing one and forcing the evacuation of 1000 people.

Dozens of buildings were destroyed in the town, about 250km east of Montreal.

They include a bar full of customers. Police are trying to account for dozens of missing people.

The train's cars reportedly uncoupled from a parked engine and derailed early on Saturday.

The BBC reports the search for more bodies is expected to continue at dawn.

Local media have reported up to 100 people missing.

"We have already confirmed one death and we expect there will be others," said police spokesman Guy Lapointe.

"We also expect that the number of people reported missing will be greater than the final death toll."

He said some people had been reported missing several times by different family members.

Some 120 firefighters have been fighting the blaze, which has continued for more than 24 hours.

Fire officials told Reuters about 30 buildings in the town centre were destroyed, some by the initial blast and others by the subsequent fire.

The rail line is operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, which said the train had been parked some distance from the town and no one was on board when it derailed.

A spokesperson said the engineer had parked the train and was waiting for his relief crew. The conductor was not on board and it was not clear how the train got released.

The rail tracks pass next to a bar popular with young people. Eyewitness Yvon Rosa said he had just left the bar when he saw the train speeding into the middle of the town.

"I have never seen a train travelling that quickly into the center of Lac-Megantic," he told French-language broadcaster Radio-Canada, saying he watched as the train hurtled around a bend.

"I saw the wagons come off the tracks ... everything exploded. In just one minute the center of the town was covered in fire."

Residents said they had heard five or six large blasts. More than 15 hours after the derailment, one car was still burning.

"When you see the downtown of your city almost destroyed, you think how are we going to get through this," mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said.

A 1km exclusion zone was set up around the derailed train due to fears more pressurised containers would explode.

Lac-Megantic has about 6000 residents and is close to the US border with Vermont.