Run-away train ploughs into Quebec town

2013-07-06 21:07

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Montreal - Explosions rocked a small town in Quebec and dozens of people were still missing after an oil-laden cargo train derailed in the middle of town early on Saturday.

The accident created a spectacular fireball, witnesses said, and the flames were still not under control hours later in Lac Megantic, around 250km east of Montreal. Witnesses reported as many as six large explosions during the night.

"We don't have any idea if there are victims, or how many," Quebec Health Minister Rejean Hebert told reporters as Radio-Canada reported about 60 people were unaccounted for.

The provincial police of Quebec had earlier said they were unable to determine if the missing people had been in town overnight, but several witnesses said they were unable to reach relatives who lived near the accident site.

Authorities evacuated everyone within a kilometre of the scene - as many as 6 000 residents, according to the Quebec emergency agency - after the train went off the rails around 01:20 local time (05:20 GMT).

First responders were initially unable to approach the site of the accident for fear of additional explosions.

But hours later, about 120 firefighters were battling the blaze, including some who came across the border from the US state of Maine, just 25km south of the town.

The Montreal Maine & Atlantic train consisted of five locomotives and 77 rail cars and was carrying oil from the US state of North Dakota, the company's vice president of marketing, Joe McGonigle said.

A spokesperson for the company admitted there was not a single engineer or conductor on the train when it crashed. It was running on autopilot until a team was scheduled to board, Christophe Journet told local media.

But there are indications the train was having problems well before it jumped the tracks.

A witness, Nancy Cameron, posted a photo on social media websites showing one of the train's locomotives spouting flames near the village of Nantes, about 20km west of Lac-Megantic.

"There was fire everywhere."

"When we came out of a bar, we saw cars arriving in the centre of town at full speed," another witness, Yvon Rosa, told Radio-Canada.

"We heard explosions and there was fire everywhere. We ran to the edge of the water," Rosa said.

Meanwhile, the crude oil, which was headed for the US coast, gushed through streets like a river, and the extent of the environmental damage was not immediately clear.

Read more on:    canada  |  canada train crash  |  search and rescue

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