8 Jul 2013

Canada's PM likens train-wrecked town to war zone

3:42 pm on 8 July 2013

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper says part of a Quebec town hit by explosions and fire after a runaway train derailed looks like a war zone.

Another two bodies have been found after the train, which was carrying crude oil, exploded in Lac-Megantic. That takes the death toll to five, with 40 people still missing, although some may simply have been away from the town on holiday.

Dozens of buildings were destroyed in the town, which is about 250 kilometres east of Montreal, the BBC reports. The pre-dawn explosion on Saturday local time sent a fireball and black smoke into the air, forcing the evacuation of 2000 people.

Lac-Megantic fire chief Denis Lauzon says two of the five wagons that exploded were still ablaze nearly 36 hours later. He says firefighters have been battling the flames with water and a fire retardant, but are staying at least 300 metres from the burning tankers for fear of more blasts.

About 30 buildings - including some of the town's most historic structures - were obliterated by the blast. "We lost the bibliotheque [library] which had all the memories of people here - it's a mess," Mr Lauzon says.

The train's 73 wagons - each carrying 113,000 litres of crude oil - reportedly uncoupled from an engine parked outside the town, gathering speed as they rolled down the tracks before derailing in Lac-Megantic.

Eyewitnesses say that by the time the wagons reached the town they were travelling at considerable speed.

The operator of the train says the air brakes used to hold the locomotive in place may have been released after the train was parked.