60 reported missing as runaway Canada oil train explosion forces town evacuation (VIDEO)

Screenshot from youtube.com @Francois Rodrigue
Screenshot from youtube.com @Francois Rodrigue

Four tanker cars of petroleum exploded in the east Canadian province of Quebec after a train derailed, leaving flames billowing hundreds of feet into the sky. Some 30 buildings were destroyed and 1,000 evacuated from homes. Local radio reports 60 missing.

“It’s dreadful,” Lac-Megantic resident Claude Bedard told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “It’s terrible. We’ve never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.”

The 73-tanker train left the tracks shortly after 1 a.m. local time as it was passing through the French-speaking lakeside town of Lac-Megantic, causing a huge fireball to rise into the night sky. Witnesses told Reuters they heard at least five loud blasts. The fire spread to a number of homes.

Radio Canada has reported that dozens are missing.

The blast was described as “like an atomic bomb,” by a local restaurant owner.  Bernard Demers had to evacuate the premises, telling AP that everybody had been terrified.

The train “somehow got released,” and had no conductor on board, according to the rail company. The convoy of crude oil left the station of its own accord during a shift change in Nantes, west of the affected region.

“We’re not sure what happened, but the engineer did everything by the book. He had parked the train and was waiting for his relief,” Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, Inc Vice President Joseph McGonigle said on Saturday.

Twitter user Mathieu Huchette wrote that one hour before explosion, at 11.25pm in Nantes, “the train was already on fire and on autopilot.”

Approximately 1,000 of the town’s 6,000 residents have been evacuated, with many missing. Police imposed a 1/2-mile (1-km) security zone around the blast’s center.

Early on Saturday, a Quebec provincial police Lt., Michel Brunet, told a press briefing that it had been too early to say if there were any casualties.

“I can say absolutely nothing about victims…we’ve been told about people who are not answering their phones, but you have to understand that there are people who are out of town and on holiday,” said Brunet.

“Thoughts & prayers are with those impacted in Lac Megantic. Horrible news,” tweeted Prime Minister Stephen Harper as firemen tried to calm the blaze.

Around 20 fire engines have been battling the inferno, which they fear could spread as many tanker cars are still at risk of exploding. Firetrucks have been dispatched from northern Maine, US, to assist.

“There are still wagons which we think are pressurized. We’re not sure because we can’t get close, so we’re working on the assumption that all the cars were pressurized and could explode. That’s why progress is slow and tough,” said local fire chief Denis Lauzon.

“Right now, there is a lot of smoke in the air, so we have a mobile laboratory here to monitor the quality,”  Christian Blanchette, a spokesperson for Environment Quebec, told AP. Smoke could be seen from several miles away hours after the derailment occurred.

“When you see the center of your town almost destroyed, you’ll understand that we’re asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event,” a tearful town Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told a news briefing.

The railroad is under the supervision of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic. The company owns around 500 miles of track across Maine and Vermont in the US, as well as in Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada.

Train derailments carrying petroleum products in Canada have not been uncommon in recent months. An accident last week in Calgary, Alberta saw a train derailed on a collapsing bridge, threatening to send the diesel-carrying cars into the swollen Bow River.

Source: RT

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