July 8, 2013

Train derails, explodes near Maine-Canada border

One person is confirmed dead after an unattended freight train carrying oil rolls into a Quebec town, creating a daylong inferno.

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded early Saturday in a small Quebec town near the Maine border, killing at least one person, causing widespread destruction and forcing about 2,000 people to flee their homes, authorities said.

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Smoke and flames rise from railway cars carrying crude oil after a train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on Saturday. The accident led to several explosions and destroyed a huge swath of the town’s urban center. Quebec Provincial Police said Saturday night that there was at least one confirmed death.

The Associated Press/Canadian Press

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Multiple explosions rocked the town of Lac-Megantic, about 155 miles east of Montreal and 185 miles north of Portland. The train was carrying as much as 2 million gallons of oil, which fueled an inferno firefighters tried unusuccessfully to extinguish all day Saturday and late into the night.

Quebec Provincial Police said they had one confirmed death Saturday night, but no information on injuries. They also said several people were reported missing after the unattended train derailed. The railroad that operated the train, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said it had reports of fatalities and injuries but provided no details.

When the explosion occurred, the train was about to cross into Maine on its way to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Early Saturday evening, the railway said the derailment occurred after an engineer got off the 72-car train about seven miles outside Lac-Megantic at the end of his shift. The engineer told the company that he set the train’s brakes and then went to his rest stop at a nearby hotel and left the train for a new crew to take over.

The engineer said he left the train about 11:25 p.m. Friday, about an hour and 50 minutes before the derailment, the railroad said.

At some point after he left, the unattended train rolled downhill into the town, where it derailed and exploded, the railroad said.

A railway spokeswoman said the engineer was adamant that he set the brakes and she said the company would investigate whether the brakes had indeed been set or had malfunctioned.

Earlier in the day, Quebec Provincial Police Lt. Michel Brunet said there were many reports of missing people in the town of about 6,000 residents, but authorities weren’t sure if any of them were hurt in the explosion.

“We’re told some people are missing but they may just be out of town or on vacation,” Brunet told a news conference, according to The Associated Press.

Lac-Megantic resident Claude Bedard told the AP the scene of the explosions was “dreadful.”

“It’s terrible,” Bedard said. “We’ve never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.”

Onlookers said large amounts of oil spilled into nearby bodies of water, the AP reported.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. is based in Hermon, outside Bangor. The company owns more than 500 miles of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick, according to its website.

A news release put out by the company said it was “devastated” by the derailment and explosion and would soon have representatives in Lac-Megantic to help residents affected.

Quebec Provincial Police Sgt. Gregory Gomez said there are several homes and stores near where the explosions occurred, along with a bar that was open at the time of the crash.

“We do fear there are going to be casualties,” he said.

Flames and billowing smoke could be seen for several miles hours after the derailment, the AP reported. Some of the train’s cars exploded and the fire spread to a number of homes.

As of 10 p.m. Saturday, firefighters were still trying to extinguish the oil-fueled blaze, police said.

Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette said a large but undetermined amount of fuel also spilled into the Chaudiere River, according to the AP.

“We also have a spill on the lake and the river that is concerning us,” Blanchette said. “We have advised the local municipalities downstream to be careful if they take their water from the Chaudiere River.”

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A large swath of Lac-Megantic in the Canadian province of Quebec was destroyed Saturday after a train carrying crude oil derailed, sparking several explosions and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people.

The Associated Press/Canadian Press

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Smoke rises from derailed railway cars that were carrying crude oil in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on Saturday.

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Smoke billows behind buildings in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, hours after a fiery train derailment Saturday.

The Associated Press / Canadian Press

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A view of Lac-Megantic around noon with smoke still rising from the train derailment.

The Associated Press / Canadian Press

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