LAC MEGANTIC, Quebec: Canadian officials said on Sunday (Monday in Manila) that they found five bodies as they searched for victims of a giant blaze caused by the crash of a runaway train transporting crude oil, and fear they could find as many as 40 more.
Firemen in this picturesque Quebec lakeside town finally managed to put out a raging inferno sparked when the driverless freight train derailed, crashed into town and exploded early Saturday, sending fireballs skyward and unleashing a wall of fire that tore through homes and businesses.
“The flames, the fires all have been put out now. We did it,” fire chief Denis Lauzon told a press briefing.
That meant police finally would be able to conduct a full search of the charred wreckage at the disaster scene.
However a mid-level explosion was heard around 10 p.m. (2 a.m. in Manila). Police said they did not know the cause of that blast.
The fire decimated a downtown portion of Lac-Megantic, population 6,000, and forced about 2,000 residents to flee their homes. The town is located 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Montreal, near the US border.
Police spokesman Michel Brunet said after finding one body on Saturday and four on Sunday, they anticipate “many more” fatalities. The official figure for missing people is 40, he said.
One firefighter said on condition of anonymity that there had been at least 50 people in one bar that was consumed by the flames.
“There is nothing left,” he said.
The explosion completely leveled more than four blocks of the town’s downtown area, and it took firefighters 18 hours to contain the inferno.
Survivors described a wall of flames as the speeding black tanker cars jumped the rail tracks just as dozens of people were enjoying a summer night out in downtown bars and restaurants.
“One young girl was in flames,” said a witness, Jean-Guy Nadeau. “She cried out ‘save me, save me!’”
Many in this heavily Catholic area were unable to go to Sunday services because their church was squarely within the burned out area. The lucky ones headed to churches in nearby towns.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway said in a statement Saturday that the train had been transporting 72 carloads of crude oil when it derailed at around 1:20 a.m. (5:20 a.m. in Manila).
“People are in shock, They just cannot believe how serious this all is,” said Guy Boulanger, an official with the Catholic diocese of Sherbrooke in nearby Sainte-Cecile-de-Whitton.