A runaway train carrying crude oil crashed in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec early on Saturday morning and destroyed the entire area with huge explosions and fireballs that caused the evacuation of over 2,000 people. Now, as rescuers attempt to find several missing people, officials say they expect the death toll to rise from the current number, which stands at three.
The rescue efforts are made all the more difficult by the fact that some of the tanker cars are ticking time bombs and could go up at any moment under the intense heat and pressure from the fires, which are still burning. The train carried 73 cars--five of which exploded--and was parked uphill from Lac-Megantic when it somehow got moving again and sped down towards town. An investigation is ongoing as fire officials try to keep the remaining cars cool.
"If brakes aren't properly applied on a train, it's going to run away," said Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of Rail World, Inc. "But we think the brakes were properly applied on this train."
Officials have not released the names of the deceased pending family notification, but they have said they expect the death toll to rise as they comb through the wreckage. The train hit the town's center head-on, which was full of bars and heavily populated businesses that, at 1 a.m. on a Saturday morning, would have still been busy.
"On a beautiful evening like this with the bar, there were a lot of people there," said Bernard Demers, who owns a restaurant near the blast site. "It was a big explosion. It's a catastrophe. It's terrible for the population."
Lt Guy Lapointe, a spokesman with Quebec provincial police, told The Guardian: "I don't want to get into numbers, what I will say is we do expect we'll have other people who will be found deceased unfortunately. People are calling in reported love ones missing, some people are reported two, three times missing by different members of the family."