UPDATE 5-Five die, 40 missing after Canadian freight train disaster

Sun Jul 7, 2013 9:16pm EDT
 
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By Richard Valdmanis and Julie Gordon

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec, July 7 (Reuters) - At least five people died and 40 were missing on Sunday after a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the center of a small Canadian town in a disaster that raised fresh questions about shipping oil by rail.

The train, which did not have an engineer aboard when it derailed, was hauling 72 tanker cars of crude from North Dakota to eastern Canada. It rolled downhill from an overnight parking spot, gathered speed and derailed on a curve in the small town of Lac-Megantic at 1 a.m. (0500 GMT) on Saturday.

Each car carried 30,000 gallons (113,000 liters) of crude oil. Four caught fire and exploded in a orange and black fireball that mushroomed hundreds of feet into the air and flattened dozens of buildings, including a popular bar.

"It looks like a war zone here," said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who visited the town on Sunday. "This is an unbelievable disaster. ... There isn't a family in this area that is not touched by this, that is not affected by this."

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, which owns the line, said it was investigating the cause of the accident, but the release of the train's brakes might be linked to how the locomotive was shut down on Friday night in the nearby town of Nantes.

Police spokesman Michel Brunet said five people died and about 40 people were missing. He also said police were keeping all options open as they investigated the disaster.

"Every time the Surete (Quebec police) needs to investigate, we need to rule out any foul play," police spokesman Benoit Richard told reporters. "Right now, we cannot say it is a criminal act. We can only say we are looking at it as if it was."   Continued...