Quebec disaster death toll jumps to 13, some 37 still missing

Mon Jul 8, 2013 6:57pm EDT
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By Richard Valdmanis and P.J. Huffstutter

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec/CHICAGO (Reuters) - The death toll in Quebec's oil train disaster jumped to 13 people on Monday and police said about 37 more people were missing, a sign the derailment and explosion could be the worst accident in Canada since the Swissair crash of 1998.

Police said they estimated a total of around 50 people were either dead or missing after the gigantic blast destroyed dozens of buildings in the center of Lac-Megantic early on Saturday.

Previously they had said five people were dead and 40 were missing. Given the devastation in the town center, few residents expect any of the missing to be found alive.

The coroner's office asked relatives of the missing to bring in toothbrushes, hair brushes, combs and razors so specialists could extract DNA samples from strands of hair.

If the death toll does hit 50, that would make it Canada's deadliest accident since 229 people died in 1998 when a Swissair jet crashed into the sea off eastern Canada.

Asked when authorities would declare the missing people dead, police spokesman Benoit Richard replied: "When we find the bodies."

The runaway oil tanker train derailed in the town of 6,000 people shortly after 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, causing a huge explosion and deadly ball of flame.

Air brakes that would have prevented the disaster failed because they were powered by an engine that was shut down by firefighters as they dealt with a fire shortly before the calamity occurred, the head of the railway that operated the train said on Monday.   Continued...

First responders fight burning trains after a train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec early July 6, 2013 in this picture provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. REUTERS/Transportation Safety Board of Canada/Handout via Reuters