Smoke billows from a fire at the site of a train derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec in this aerial handout photo. Several people were reported missing after four tank cars of petroleum products exploded in the middle of the small town in a fiery blast that destroyed dozens of buildings. (REUTERS/Surete du Quebec/Handout)
Driverless train explodes, levels Canadian town
Four of the cars caught fire and blew up in a fireball that mushroomed many hundreds of feet into the air.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic's vice president of marketing, Joseph R. McGonigle, said the train was transporting crude oil from North Dakota to Canada, likely to New Brunswick, news that is bound to revive questions about the safest way to carry the oil needed to serve North America's economies.
"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 ... somehow, the train got released," McGonigle told Reuters.
The rail tracks pass next to a bar popular with young people. Eyewitness Yvon Rosa said he had just left the bar when he saw the train speeding into the middle of the town.
"I saw the wagons come off the tracks ... everything exploded. In just one minute the center of the town was covered in fire.''
"Many parents are worried because they haven't been able to communicate with a member of their family or an acquaintance,'' Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told Radio-Canada.
Fire officials said they feared more tanker cars were at risk of exploding. About 30 buildings in the town center were destroyed, some by the initial blast and others by the subsequent fire, they said.Police imposed a half-mile security zone around the blast and evacuated about 1,000 people from their homes."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 Roy-Laroche told a televised news briefing.
Lac-Megantic is part of Quebec's Eastern Townships region, an area popular with tourists that is close to the border with Maine and Vermont. Quebec is a predominantly French-speaking province in the eastern half of Canada.
Police said some of the tanker cars had spilled their contents into the river that runs through the town.