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Lac-Megantic, Quebec: Train carrying crude oil derails, explodes

Canadian Press, Montreal Gazette, July 6 2013

MONTREAL - By mid-morning Saturday, 10 hours after a train derailment set off a series of explosions, firefighters still could not get near the centre of the fire raging in the downtown area of historic Lac Mégantic, authorities told media.

About 1,000 people were evacuated during the night from the centre of the picturesque town to a local high school where the Red Cross had set up emergency services. There were no reports of deaths or injuries, police said. Lt. Michel Brunet of the Sûreté du Québec said, "We're told some people are missing, but they may just be out of town or on vacation," he told an 8 a.m. news conference. "We're checking all that, so I can't tell you at the moment whether there are any victims or people who are injured."

A Facebook page has been set up to help people find missing friends or relatives.

A 73-car train, owned by Montreal Maine & Atlantic, carrying crude oil, derailed near the downtown area of Lac Mégantic, about 250 kilometres east of Montreal, at 1:20 a.m. Saturday. Environment Quebec spokesperson Christian Blanchette told media that four of the cars were damaged by fire and the explosions. Enormous flames shot several meters high over the downtown as a number of explosions rocked the area.

Mayor Colette Roy-LaRoche was on the verge of tears Saturday morning as she spoke to media.

"When you see the downtown of your city almost destroyed, you think, 'How are we going to get through this? But I can assure everyone here that all the authorities and ministries have been very supportive. We have deployed all the resources possible."

An estimated 120 firefighters arrived throughout the night and morning from nearby Sherbrooke and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce and farther away from the United States.

Blanchette warned that the Environment Department is worried about an oil spill on the lake and river, advising towns in the area to be careful about taking water from the Chaudière River.

There were also reports Saturday morning that flames had been seen in Lac Mégantic's aqueducts. Town residents, who number just under 6,000, were told by authorities to be sparing in their consumption of drinking water.

Fire and police officials have established a 1-km safety perimeter around the fire and have ordered people to stay out of the downtown area, saying firefighters and other emergency workers could not cope with people who want to have a look at the disaster. Boats were also forbidden on the east shore of Lac Mégantic, between the Parc des Vétérans and the Parc de OTJ.

As the full extent of the devastation to the downtown core became clearer, questions were raised by experts about the practice of transporting crude oil by train. There were early reports suggesting that the train had been on autopilot, also raising questions.

In an interview with La Presse, Josephy R. McGonigle, vice-president with the train company, said it was the mid section of the train convoy that derailed. According to an interview reported by LCN with McGonigle there was no conductor on board.

A team of at least six investigators is already on its way to the site of the train derailment, Transportation Safety Board of Canada spokesperson Chris Krepsky said Saturday.

Even though the investigators, who are traveling from Montreal, Ottawa and Darmouth, will not be able to get near the site of the accident, they will start gathering information from witnesses and company officials as soon as they arrive in Lac Mégantic, said Krepsky. He said it was too early to say if there are similarities with other train derailments.

With files from The Canadian Press

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette


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