Train Derailment of 72 Oil Tankers Explodes in Downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec Province, Canada, Killing 45 Plus and Destroying 30 Buildings — July 6, 2013 — Photos and Videos

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UPDATED July 8, 2013


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Quebec train explosion

Canadian Freight Train Explodes After Derailment

Runaway Canada oil train explosion destroys town center, forces evacuation

Lac-Megantic Explosions, Fire Sparked By Train Derailment in Canada 

A train pulling over 70 tankers of crude oil derailed and burst into flames in Canada early Saturday near the U.S. border.

It jumped the tracks in the small town of Lac-Megantic in the province of Quebec, according to officials in Maine, who received a request for help at around 3 a.m. ET.

The inferno spread to nearby homes, and authorities evacuated the center of town and a home for the elderly, CNN affiliate Radio-Canada reported. Thick fuel spilled into the Chaudiere River.

Firefighters from both countries rushed to fight the blaze with at least 27 firefighting vehicles.

Five of the trucks deployed from the United States, after the sheriff’s office in Franklin County, Maine, issued an “all call” for help to U.S. fire departments near the border.

Flames welling up stories high into the night sky were caught on camera and uploaded to Youtube. The video appears to reveal an explosion. Thick black smoke billowed into the air.

A “nauseating” odor spread through the town, Radio-Canada reported, and environmental emergency services dispatched a mobile lab to check for airborne toxins.

The radio station said that the oil shipment was on its way to the United States.

Explosion of a train in downtown Lac-Mégantic

Huge fire erupts in Lac-Mégantic, QC, Canada, as an oil train derails. All of downtown is burning right now.
Vers 1:20am samedi matin, il y a eu une Explosion d’un train au centre-ville de Lac-Mégantic. Le train ne freinait pas et les wagons-citernes ont explosé à la traverse à niveaux. Le ciel s’est éclairé jaune et rouge. Un scène d’horreur.
Train carrying petroleum derails, catches fire in Canada’s Quebec province.
A train carrying petroleum products derailed in a small town in Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec on Saturday, causing big explosions and sending flames and smoke hundreds of feet into the air.
Huge explosion of a fuel train in Quebec
Un train de carburant explose à Lac-Mégantic
La Ville de Lac-Mégantic, en Estrie, est littéralement en feu. Un incendie majeur a éclaté au centre-ville, à la suite du déraillement d’un train qui transportait du pétrole brut, dans la nuit de vendredi à samedi.

Massive Explosion | Quebec | After Freight Train Carrying Fuel Derails (Raw Footage + Slow Mo)

BREAKING: Massive Explosion after Freight Fuel Train Derails, Whole Town Evacuates in Quebec

Quebec Crude-Oil Train Derailment Sparks Fire And Explosions

Invest in Lac-Megantic

Lac Megantic Quebec Canada

Drive Through – Lac Megantic, Quebec

Lac Megantic: Death toll rises in Quebec train derailment explosion

Ravaged site is now being treated as a “crime scene” as the railway says someone shut down a locomotive keeping the brakes on.

AC-MÉGANTIC,QUE.—So much is lost.

Five people confirmed dead, 40 missing. They may never return, dead or alive, perhaps vaporized in the blast early Saturday morning, after a driverless train hurtled into the busy downtown core of this idyllic Quebec town 250 kilometres from Montreal.

People gathered throughout the town of Lac-Mégantic: at the Polyvalente Montignac, a secondary school transformed in a matter of hours into an emergency shelter and resource centre; at old, picturesque churches that dot its usually quiet streets, now pulsing with official vehicles, media, worried residents still looking for their families and friends.

People gathered under trees, hiding from the glaring sun, hugging, crying. Others arrived by the dozen from across Quebec, their vehicles laden with food, toys, clothing, for those forced from their homes.

One young woman who worked at the now-leveled Musi-Café, near the heart of the blast, emerged from the school in tears.

Learning there was still no news of her cousin, Andree-Anne Sevigny and a work colleague with her, Jo-Annie Lapointe, were devastated.

“They can’t find them,” she said. It had been nearly 36 hours since the blast.

Ed Burkhardt, chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said Sunday night that the train’s sole engineer shut down four of the five locomotive units on the train, as is standard procedure, in the neighbouring community of Nantes before heading to Lac Mégantic to sleep. Burkhardt said the next engineer was probably due to arrive at daybreak.

But someone managed to shut down the fifth locomotive unit, he said. The railroad alleges someone tampered with the controls of the fifth engine, the one maintaining brake pressure to keep the train stopped.

“If the operating locomotive is shut down, there’s nothing left to keep the brakes charged up, and the brake pressure will drop finally to the point where they can’t be held in place any longer,” Burkhardt said.

There are two ways to shut down the fifth unit: There’s an emergency lever on the outside of the locomotive that anyone wandering by could access. Or, there are a number of levers and buttons inside the unlocked cabin.

Both means were used, said Burkhardt.

The result was what Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who visited the stricken Eastern Townships community Sunday, said resembled a “war zone.”

The chair of the 10-year-old rail company headquartered in Maine said they would “consider” changes to procedures in light of the tragedy.

Burkhardt said the engineer went to the epicentre of the explosions and picked up nine cars, bringing them back to Nantes, where they still sat on the tracks beside the road Sunday.

By Sunday night, the fires that had raged for some 36 hours were finally out, though firefighters continued to douse what remained of the train cars in an area still off-limits.

The ravaged site of a train explosion that razed blocks of downtown Lac-Mégantic is being treated as the “scene of a crime,” police said.

Genevieve Guilbault, spokesperson for the provincial coroner’s office, made the grim announcement that some of the 40 still missing may never be found.

“It is not impossible when we look at the intensity of the explosion,” she told reporters. She added that the five bodies recovered from the ravaged downtown area and transported to Montreal for forensic examination have not been positively identified.

Sunday evening, the Surete du Quebec said finding more victims had been difficult in part because investigators and search-and-rescue crews were able to comb through only a “pretty small area.”

“There is still a big part of the scene that is too dangerous to examine,” said Sgt. Benoit Richard.

Police are meeting with relatives of the 40 still listed as missing and asking them to provide material that might identify their remains. That material is in turn passed on to the coroner’s office, which is running forensic pathology tests in a Montreal laboratory.

It’s not known how long the police investigation may take, Richard said. “It could be a couple of days to a couple of weeks.”

Donald Ross, the Transportation Safety Board’s investigator in charge, has a nine-member team on site and is shuttling in experts from the TSB’s Ottawa headquarters as the need arises. But the probe is slow-going, mainly because the last fire was extinguished only Sunday afternoon.

“It’s a tremendous job,” Ross said, describing how the firefighting effort over a day and a half left water that was knee-deep in some places. “It’s hard to get around.”

Still, investigators have confirmed that there was a fire involving the train where it was parked by the engineer in Nantes, though they would not, or could not, say at this point whether that contributed to the derailment and subsequent explosion.

The TSB has recovered the locomotive event recorder, the train equivalent to the airliner “black box.” That  device will tell authorities how fast the train was travelling, when it was set in motion and whether all the necessary braking mechanisms were applied.

Lucienne Gallant was still trembling Sunday morning at the home of her son and daughter-in-law in Nantes, 36 hours after she was awakened by a neighbour, telling her a train had derailed and they had to run.

The 81-year-old ran with several people up the street, feeling the flames at her back, a scene she described with trembling hands while the home phone and cellphones rang constantly, with family and friends calling to check in.

But initial panic on Sunday evolved into grief as people began to comprehend the extent of the devastation and the mounting official death toll.

Reporters and TV crews camped outside the school entrance. Inside, said Lac-Megantic resident Linda Gendreau, there was an information vacuum — no televisions, no running updates.

“Maybe it is better that way, because people are living through this event and they have to take it one day at a time,” said Gendreau. Her own family and friends have been accounted for, but friends of friends remain missing, she said.

“We can’t absorb it all at once, so it’s maybe a good thing that we start by going through the shock of the situation, and then go through the collective crisis of what it means for the community.”

The 10-year-old railway owns more than 800 km of track serving Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine and Vermont.

Beauchesne said there were 160 firefighters on the scene and there’s a “team spirit” in the town and “everyone is working together.”

Worried residents watched from behind the perimeters set up by authorities, sick with fear that some of their friends and loved ones may have died.


Canadian train derailment death toll rises to 5; dozens still missing

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec — As firefighters doused still burning oil tanker cars, more bodies were recovered Sunday in this devastated town in eastern Quebec, raising the death toll to five after a runaway train derailed, igniting explosions and fires that destroyed the downtown district. With dozens of people reported missing, authorities feared they could find more bodies once they reached the hardest-hit areas.

Quebec provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet said Sunday that about 40 people have been reported missing, but cautioned that the number could fluctuate up or down.

“We met many people who had reported family members missing. Right now I can tell you about 40,” Brunet said.

Brunet confirmed two more deaths early Sunday afternoon after confirming two people were found dead overnight. One death was confirmed Saturday.

All but one of the 73 cars were filled with oil, which was being transported from North Dakota’s Bakken oil region to a refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

The eruptions early Saturday morning sent residents of Lac-Megantic scrambling through the streets under the intense heat of towering fireballs and a red glow that illuminated the night sky.

Local Fire Chief Denis Lauzon likened the charred scene to “a war zone.”

“This is really terrible. Our community is grieving and it is taking its toll on us,” Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said.

On Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the town where a large part of the downtown area has been leveled.

“This is an unbelievable disaster,” Harper said. “This is a very big disaster in human terms as the extent of this becomes increasingly obvious.”

Harper said the whole country is worried about the missing and is praying for the town.

“This is an enormous area, 30 buildings just completely destroyed, for all intents and purposes incinerated,” Harper said. “There isn’t a family that is not affected by this.”

The search for victims in the charred debris was hampered because two tanker cars were still burning Sunday morning, sparking fears of more potentially fatal blasts.

Lauzon said firefighters are staying 500 feet (150 meters) from the burning tankers, which are being doused with water and foam to keep them from overheating.

The multiple blasts came over a span of several hours in the town of 6,000, which is about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Montreal and about 10 miles (16 kilometers) west of the Maine border. It is a picturesque lakeside town in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

The derailment caused at least five tanker cars to explode in the downtown district, a popular area packed with bars that often bustles on summer weekend nights. Police said the first explosion tore through the town shortly after 1 a.m. local time. The fire then spread to several homes.

Brunet said he couldn’t say where the bodies were found exactly because the families have not been notified. Many feared for the lives of those who were at the Musi-Cafe bar where dozens of people were enjoying themselves in the wee hours of a glorious summer night.

Residents who gathered outside a community shelter Sunday hugged and wiped tears as they braced for bad news about missing loved ones.

Henri-Paul Audette headed there with hope of reuniting with his missing brother. Audette, 69, said his brother’s apartment was next to the railroad tracks, very close to the spot where the train derailed.

“I haven’t heard from him since the accident,” he said. “I had thought … that I would see him.”

Another man who came to the shelter said it’s difficult to explain the impact this incident has had on life in Lac-Megantic. About a third of the community was forced out of their homes. David Vachon said he has one friend whose sister is missing and another who is still searching for his mother.

The cause of the accident was believed to be a runaway train, the railroads operator said.

Edward Burkhardt, the president and CEO of Rail World Inc., the parent company of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said the train had been parked uphill of Lac-Megantic because the engineer had finished his run. The tanker cars somehow came loose and sped downhill nearly seven miles into the town before derailing.

“We’ve had a very good safety record for these 10 years,” Burkhardt said of the decade-old railroad. “Well, I think we’ve blown it here.”

Joe McGonigle, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic’s vice president of marketing, said the company believes the brakes were the cause. He said the rail company has been in touch with Canada’s Transportation Safety Board.

“Somehow those brakes were released and that’s what is going to be investigated,” McGonigle said in a telephone interview Sunday. “We’re pretty comfortable saying it is the brakes. The train was parked, it was tied up. The brakes were secured. Somehow it got loose.”

Lauzon, the fire chief, said that firefighters in a nearby community were called to a locomotive blaze on the same train a few hours before the derailment. Lauzon said he could not provide additional details about that fire since it was in another jurisdiction. Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert couldn’t be immediately reached, but McGonigle confirmed the fire department showed up after the first engineer tied up and went to a local hotel and after someone reported a fire.

“We know that one of our employees from our engineering department showed up at the same time to assist the fire department. Exactly what they did is being investigated so the engineer wasn’t the last man to touch that train, we know that, but we’re not sure what happened,” McGonigle said.

McGonigle said there was no reason to suspect any criminal or terror-related activity.

Because of limited pipeline capacity in North Dakota’s Bakken region and in Canada, oil producers are increasingly using railroads to transport much of the oil to refineries on the East, Gulf and West coasts, as well as inland. Harper has called railroad transit “far more environmentally challenging” while trying to persuade the Obama administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

The proliferation of oil trains has raised concerns of a major derailment like this. McGonigle said it is a safe way to transport oil.

“There’s much more hazardous material that moves by rail than crude oil. We think it is safe. We think we have a safe operation. No matter what mode of transportation you are going to have incidents. That’s been proven,” McGonigle said. “This is an unfortunate incident.”

Myrian Marotte, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Red Cross in Lac-Megantic, said there are about 2,000 evacuees and said 163 stayed at their operations center overnight.

Patrons gathered at a nearby bar were sent running for their lives after the thunderous crash and wall of fire blazed through the early morning sky early Saturday. Bernard Theberge, who was outside on the bar’s patio at the time of the crash, feared for the safety of those inside the popular Musi-Cafe when the first explosion went off.

“People started running and the fire ignited almost instantaneously,” he said.

“It was like a movie,” said Theberge, who considered himself fortunate to escape with only second-degree burns on his right arm. “Explosions as if it were scripted — but this was live.”

According to Montreal Maine & Atlantic’s website, the company owns more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic carried nearly 3 million barrels of oil across Maine last year. Each tank car holds some 30,000 gallons (113,600 liters) of oil.

Maine state officials were notified regarding concerns about the smoke from the fire but staff meteorologists don’t believe it will have a significant impact, Peter Blanchard of the state Department of Environmental Protection said Sunday.

The Maine environmental agency had previously begun developing protection plans for areas in the state through which the oil trains travel.

But Glen Brand, director of the environmentalist Sierra Club’s Maine chapter, said the Quebec derailment is reason enough to call for an immediate moratorium on the rail transport of oil through the state.

“This tragic accident is part of the larger problem of moving oil through Maine and northern New England,” Brand said. “It reinforces the importance of moving away from dirty fossil fuels that expose the people of northern New England, Maine and Quebec to a host of dangerous risks.”

French President Francois Hollande’s office issued a statement offering condolences to the victims in the predominantly French-speaking Canadian province.


Deadly Derailment in Quebec Underlines Oil Debate


The police said on Sunday that at least five people had died and 40 were missing after runaway railroad tank cars filled with oil derailed and exploded in a small Quebec town.

“We know there will be more deaths,” Lt. Michel Brunet of Quebec’s provincial police told reporters in Lac-Mégantic, where the fires continued to burn on Sunday.

The derailment and explosions, which took place around 1:15 a.m. on Saturday, underscored a debate in the effort to transport North America’s oil across long distances: is it safer and less environmentally destructive to move huge quantities of crude oil by train or by pipeline?

Visiting the town on Sunday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper compared it to a “war zone.”

The fires, which incinerated at least 30 buildings in the core of Lac-Mégantic, a tourist town of 6,000 people about 150 miles east of Montreal, limited the work of accident investigators, as well as attempts to search for survivors and the remains of victims.

In a statement, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway said the train had been parked outside Lac-Mégantic for the night with no crew members on board. Its locomotive had been shut down, “which may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place,” the statement said.

The railway did not respond to further questions, but Reuters, quoting officials from the company, said the oil aboard the train had come from the Bakken oil fields of the Western United States.

The Bakken oil deposits, which are often drilled through hydrofracking, have become a major source of oil for the railroads to move because the deposits lack direct pipeline links. Canada’s oil sands producers, frustrated by a lack of pipeline capacity, are also turning to trains to ship their products.

Their move to rail comes as the Obama administration continues to weigh an application for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver synthetic crude oil and bitumen, an oil-containing substance, from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. An analysis of the pipeline plan for the State Department concluded that if the pipeline was rejected, oil sands producers would instead turn to railways for shipments to the United States.

Both the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway have extensive rail networks into the United States and have been promoting what the industry often calls a “pipeline on rails” to serve the oil sands. Mark Hallman, a spokesman for Canadian National, said the railway moved 5,000 carloads of crude oil to the United States from Canada in 2011, increased that amount to 30,000 carloads in 2012 and “believes it has the scope to double this business in 2013.”

Unlike pipeline proposals, however, the escalation of rail movements of oil, including light oil shipments from the Bakken fields as well as from similar unconventional, or tight, oil deposits in Canada, is not covered by any regular government or regulatory review.

“We have an explosion of tight oil production in Canada and the United States, and most of it is moving by train,” said Anthony Swift, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “But this process has happened without due diligence.”

Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada who has examined the increased use of oil trains, criticized railways in Canada and the United States for continuing to use older oil tank cars that he said were found to be unsafe more than 20 years ago.

A 2009 report by the National Transportation Safety Board about a Canadian National derailment in Illinois called the design of those tank cars “inadequate” and found that it “made the cars subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.” Television images suggested that the surviving tank cars on the Lac-Mégantic train were of the older design.

Mr. Hallman, the spokesman for Canadian National, did not respond to questions about the safety of tank cars or the consequences of the Lac-Mégantic derailment for rail oil shipments in general. However, he said, “this tragedy notwithstanding, movement of hazardous material by rail not only can be, but is being, handled safely in the vast majority of instances.” Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific, declined to comment.

The comparative safety of railways over pipelines has been the subject of much debate. Speaking in New York in May, Mr. Harper emphasized that the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to an increase in oil sands shipments by rail, which he called “more environmentally challenging” than pipelines.

“We have seen some major safety risks associated with the crude-by-rail regime,” Mr. Swift, the lawyer, said.

But Edward Whittingham, the executive director of the Pembina Institute, an environmental group based in Calgary, Alberta, said there was not conclusive research weighing the safety of the two shipment methods.

“The best data I’ve seen indicates,” he said, “depending on your perspective, both are pretty much as safe as each other, or both are equally unsafe. There’s safety and environmental risks inherent in either approach.”

Accidents involving pipelines, Mr. Whittingham said, can be more difficult to detect and can release greater amounts of oil. Rail accidents are more frequent but generally release less oil. The intensity of the explosions and fires at Lac-Mégantic, he said, came as a “big surprise” to him and other researchers, given that the tank cars had been carrying crude oil, rather than a more volatile form like gasoline.

While Mr. Whittingham hopes that it will not be the case, he anticipates that proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline will use the rail accident to push their case with the Obama administration.[]

Sixty missing and scores feared dead as train carrying hundreds of tons of  oil derails and explodes in Canadian town center

  • 60 people  believed to be missing
  • About 30 buildings destroyed in Lac  Megantic
  • Force of blaze preventing rescue workers  from checking for survivors
  • Oil from train cars is spilling into  nearby river

By Jessica Jerreat

The force of the blaze has prevented  emergency workers from getting close to the damaged buildings to check for  survivors.

It is not yet known if anyone was killed or  injured in the blast, according to the Hamilton  Spectator. The Montreal Maine & Atlantic train did  not have a driver and was being run on autopilot.

About 30 shops and homes in the town center,  including the library and local weekly newspaper’s office, were destroyed by the  fire, which is being dealt with by firefighters from Quebec and Maine.

‘We do fear that there are going to be  casualties,’ Sergeant Gregory Gomez del Prado, of Quebec Police, told CTV  News.

Witnesses said the blast flattened an  apartment building and part of a pub, which had a terrace packed with people at  the time of the fire, according to CBC.

The ferocity of the blaze has made  authorities fear for the safety of many of the lakeside town’s 6,000 residents. About 120 firefighters are still trying  to contain the fire in the town  center.

‘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,’ the town’s mayor, Colette  Roy-Laroche,  said.

‘We’re told some people are missing but  they  may just be out of town or on vacation,’ Lieutenant Michel Brunet,  of Quebec  police, said.

A Facebook page has been set up to help  friends and family check on their loved ones, according to the Toronto  Star.

About 250 residents have taken shelter in a  Red Cross center set up in the town’s high school, and more are expected to  arrive there later today.

‘Many parents are worried because they  haven’t been able to communicate with a member of their family or an  acquaintance,’ Ms Roy-Laroche  said.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has  sent his sympathy to the stricken town.

‘Thoughts & prayers are with those  impacted in Lac Megantic. Horrible news,’ he said on Twitter.

Flames could be seen from several miles away  as the fire spread to several  homes after the 73-car Montreal Maine &  Atlantic train, which was  heading towards Maine, derailed.

Zeph Kee, who lives about half an hour from  Lac-Megantic, told CBC: ‘It was total mayhem … people not finding their  kids.’

Resident Anne-Julie Hallee, who saw the  explosion, said: ‘It was like the end of  the world.’

Another resident, Claude Bedard, said: ‘It’s  terrible. We’ve never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama,  everything that was there is gone.’

Some of the oil has leaked into a lake and  the Chaudiere River, and plumes of thick smoke can be seen from about 10km away,  nearly 10 hours after the blast.

A 1km section of the town has been cordoned  off and boats have been banned from coming close on the river, after flames were  allegedly seen in two aqueducts.

‘We have a mobile laboratory here to monitor  the quality of the air,’ Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette  said.

‘Firefighters are working hard to extinguish  that fire, but it’s burning hard because of the crude oil,’ Gergeant Gomez del  Prado said,adding that it would take a while for the fire to be contained.

‘We also have a spill on the lake and the  river that is concerning us. We have advised the local  municipalities  downstream to be careful if they take their water from  the Chaudiere  River.’

Firefighters have set up a perimeter around  the town as they try to tackle the  blaze, which was caused when four of the  cars that were pressurized blew up.

‘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,’ local fire chief Denis Lauzon said.

The cause of the derailment is not yet known.  The railway company’s vice-president Josephy R. McGonigle, said the middle  section of the train had derailed, the Montreal  Gazette said.

Investigators are headed to the town to begin  gathering information and statements from witnesses.

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Quebec town rocked by explosions, fire after derailment

Train derailment in Lac-Mégantic forces 1,000 from homes, several people reported missing

Worry is growing among residents of the tight-knit community of Lac-Mégantic, as people search for missing friends and loved ones after a train derailment sparked a series of explosions and a major fire that continues to burn.

The train carrying crude oil derailed overnight in the heart of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, forcing 1,000 people from their homes.

Witnesses reported between four and six explosions overnight in the town of about 6,000 people. The derailment happened at about 1 a.m. ET, about 250 kilometres east of Montreal.

It is not yet known if there are any casualties, but according to Radio-Canada 60 people have been reported missing.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent his thoughts out to the community on Saturday afternoon. He said the government was monitoring the situation and was standing ready to provide extra support.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those affected by this morning’s tragic train derailment,” he said in a statement. “We hope evacuees can return to their homes safely and quickly,” he said.

‘Total mayhem’

Zeph Kee, who lives about 30 minutes outside of Lac-Mégantic, said he saw a huge fireball coming from the city’s downtown early Saturday morning.

He described one of the local bars, where people were enjoying their drinks on the outside patio at the time of the explosion. That bar is now gone, Kee said.

Kee said several buildings and homes were flattened by the blast.

Isabelle Aller, who was visiting the area, says she has been calling her friends ever since the explosion, and they haven’t answered their phones.

“The more time that passes, the more we are worried,” she said.

Aller says after the first explosion, some people went to the scene to see what was going on.

Several explosions followed afterwards.

Mayor holds back tears

The teary-eyed mayor of Lac-Mégantic, Colette Roy-Laroche, said emergency services are doing everything possible to deal with the crisis.

“We have deployed all resources to ensure that we can support our citizens,” she said.

A spokesperson for Quebec’s Environment Ministry says 73 rail cars filled with crude oil were involved. At least four of the cars exploded, sending a huge cloud of thick, black smoke into the air.

The fire, which can be seen for several kilometres, has spread to a number of homes. Authorities say some 30 buildings were affected.

“It’s dreadful,” said Lac-Mégantic resident Claude Bédard. “It’s terrible. We’ve never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.”

Firefighters called in from U.S.

More than 100 firefighters, some as far away as Sherbrooke, Que., and the United States, were on the scene early Saturday morning to bring the flames under control.

A large but as-yet undetermined amount of fuel is also reported to have spilled into the Chaudière River. Some residents say the water has turned an orange colour.

The derailed train belongs to Montreal Maine & Atlantic, which owns more than 800 kilometres of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick, according to the company’s website.

CBC’s French service, Radio-Canada, has reported there was no one on board the train, which was being remotely operated.

The cause of the derailment is under investigation. A spokesperson for Quebec provincial police said it is still too early to say what caused it.

Experts from Environment Quebec are working to determine whether the smoke poses any danger to people.

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