July 8, 2013

Dozens feared dead in inferno after train crash

A runaway train of oil tanker cars derails and ignites in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, less than 10 miles from the Maine border.

From staff and news services

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The downtown core lies in ruins as firefighters continue to water smoldering rubble Sunday in Lac Megantic, Quebec, after a train derailed, igniting tanker cars carrying crude oil.


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Burnt buildings are seen Sunday following a train derailment causing explosions of railway cars carrying crude oil in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Two more bodies were discovered overnight after a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed in eastern Quebec, igniting explosions and fires that destroyed a town's downtown center. The confirmed death toll is now three, and is expected to rise further.


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Map: Lac-Megantic, Quebec

"This is an unbelievable disaster," Harper said. "This is a very big disaster in human terms as the extent of this becomes increasingly obvious."

Lines of tall trees in the area looked like giant standing matchsticks, blackened from bottom to tip. Witnesses said the eruptions shook residents out of their slumber and sent them darting through the streets.

Patrons gathered at a nearby bar were sent running for their lives after the thunderous crash and wall of fire blazed through the early morning sky.

Bernard Theberge, who was outside on the bar's patio at the time of the crash, said he feared for the safety of those inside the popular Musi-Cafe when the first explosion went off.

"People started running and the fire ignited almost instantaneously," he said.

"It was like a movie," said Theberge, who considered himself fortunate to escape with only second-degree burns on his right arm. "Explosions as if it were scripted -- but this was live."

Firefighters and rescue workers from several municipalities, including Sherbrooke and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, were called in to help deal with the disaster. Firefighters from Franklin County in Maine were also deployed to the Quebec town.

According to the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway website, the company owns more than 500 miles of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.

The train that derailed Saturday was headed to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, after passing through Maine.

The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway carried nearly 3 million barrels of oil across Maine last year. Each tank car holds some 30,000 gallons of oil.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection had previously begun developing protection plans for areas in the state through which the oil trains travel.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement Sunday on the catastrophe in Quebec.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy and the community of Lac-Megantic," he said. "In times of need like this, Maine stands ready to support our neighbors to the North.

"Many Maine firefighters have assisted and will continue to offer resources to the citizens of Lac-Megantic," the governor said.

The Associated Press and staff writers J. Craig Anderson and Eric Russell contributed to this report.


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