At least one dead in freight train explosion in Canadian town

Sat Jul 6, 2013 6:47pm EDT
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By Mathieu Belanger

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (Reuters) - A fast-moving, driverless train carrying tankers of crude oil derailed and exploded into an enormous fireball in the middle of a Canadian town early on Saturday, destroying dozens of buildings and killing at least one person, a toll officials said was likely to rise.

The disaster occurred shortly after 1 a.m. (0500 GMT) when the runaway freight train with 73 cars sped into Lac-Megantic, a lakeside town of about 6,000 people in the province of Quebec near the border with Maine, and came off the rails.

Witnesses said the town center, which included bars as well as stores, a library and residential streets, was crowded with weekend partygoers.

Four of the cars caught fire and blew up in a huge fireball that mushroomed many hundreds of feet up into the air. It destroyed dozens of buildings, many of them totally flattened, included the popular Musi-Cafe music bar, eyewitnesses said.

Police spokesman Michel Brunet told a briefing that at least one person had died.

He said he could not say how people many were missing. But Industry Minister Christian Paradis, who handles Quebec affairs for the federal government, indicated the death toll was likely to rise.

"I hope there are not too many dead," a clearly shocked Paradis told public broadcaster Radio-Canada. "It's really terrifying. I think the worst is yet to come."

Officials said they had few reports of injured victims, suggesting that people caught up in the blast either died on the spot or managed to escape.   Continued...

The wreckage of a train is pictured after an explosion in Lac Megantic July 6, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger (CANADA - Tags: DISASTER ENERGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)