July 9, 2013

Death toll sure to rise in Quebec oil train crash

By BENJAMIN SHINGLER The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Que., Saturday, July 6, 2013. A large swath of Lac Megantic was destroyed Saturday after a train carrying crude oil derailed, sparking several explosions and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

click image to enlarge

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, Saturday, July 6, 2013. A large swath of Lac Megantic was destroyed Saturday after a train carrying crude oil derailed, sparking several explosions and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

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Lac-Megantic, Quebec

"We always wait until there's a big accident to change things," he said. "Well, today we've had a big accident, it's one of the biggest ever in Canada."

The fires sparked by the exploding tanks burned for two days, impeding investigators from reaching some of the "hot spots," including the area near the destroyed Musi-Cafe.

"It's a zone that we've started to work on and we'll work on it more in the hours to come," Richard said.

The area remained part of a criminal investigation and investigators were exploring all options, including the possibility that someone intentionally tampered with the train, Richard said.

Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel said the train was inspected the day before the accident in Montreal and no deficiencies were found. Lebel defended his government against criticisms it had cut back on rail safety measures. He said the rail remains a safe way to transport goods the vast majority of the time.

Earlier Monday, Queen Elizabeth II expressed deep sadness over the disaster, saying in a message through the federal government that the loss of life "has shocked us all." Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the town Sunday and compared it to a war zone.

The train's owners said they believed brake failure was to blame. "Somehow those brakes were released, and that's what is going to be investigated," Joe McGonigle, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway's vice president of marketing, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Officials were also looking at a locomotive blaze on the same train a few hours before the derailment. Ross also said the locomotive's black box has been recovered, and investigators were looking into whether the air brakes or the hand break malfunctioned.

Meanwhile, crews were working to contain 100,000 liters (27,000 gallons) of light crude that spilled from the tankers and made its way into nearby waterways. There were fears it could flow into the St. Lawrence River all the way to Quebec City.

Quebec's Environment Ministry Spokesman Eric Cardinal said officials remained hopeful they could contain more than 85 per cent of the spill.

Local fire chief Denis Lauzon said firefighters in a nearby community were called to a locomotive blaze on the same train a few hours before the derailment. Lauzon said he could not provide additional details about that fire since it was in another jurisdiction. McGonigle confirmed that a fire was reported after the first engineer secured the train and went to a local hotel.

"We know that one of our employees from our engineering department showed up at the same time to assist the fire department. Exactly what they did is being investigated so the engineer wasn't the last man to touch that train, we know that, but we're not sure what happened," McGonigle said.

McGonigle said there was no reason to suspect any criminal or terror-related activity.

The growing number of trains transporting crude oil in Canada and the United States had raised concerns of a major disaster. Harper, who has been pushing the Obama administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, has said railroad transit is more "environmentally challenging" than pipelines.

The train's oil was being transported from North Dakota's Bakken oil region to a refinery in New Brunswick on Canada's East Coast. Because of limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and in Canada, oil producers are increasingly using railroads to transport oil to refineries.

The Canadian Railway Association recently estimated that as many as 140,000 carloads of crude oil will be shipped on Canada's tracks this year — up from 500 carloads in 2009. The Quebec disaster is the fourth freight train accident in Canada under investigation involving crude oil shipments since the beginning of the year.

Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, has predicted such a catastrophe ever since crude began leaving the North Dakota by rail in 2008.

"I think anybody could have foreseen this," said Schafer. "It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen and it happened."

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, Saturday, July 6, 2013. A large swath of Lac Megantic was destroyed Saturday after a train carrying crude oil derailed, sparking several explosions and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  


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