Police and firefighters are working to control a series of fires after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded near a town center in southeastern Quebec early today.
Sixty people are reported missing and 30 buildings are damaged, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said, without citing its sources. Local and federal authorities have yet to provide estimates on the casualties.
“It’s a major catastrophe,” said Sergeant Gregory Gomez del Prado, a spokesman with the Surete du Quebec provincial police, in a telephone interview from Montreal. He couldn’t confirm the CBC report.
The explosions and fires are concentrated in an area about 1 square kilometer (.39 square mile), and many buildings have been affected, Gomez del Prado said. About 1,000 people have been evacuated to a nearby school.
“The winds can change, if the direction changes we might have to evacuate more people,” he said. “There’s no information on injuries or deaths, but I fear there will be casualties.”
About 6,000 people live in Lac-Megantic.
“We have deployed all resources to ensure that we can support our citizens,” Colette Roy-Laroche, mayor of Lac-Megantic, said at a press conference this morning, the CBC reported.
The explosion occurred at about 1 a.m. local time after the train derailed, Gomez del Prado said. About 50 of the cars are on fire, he said. The cause of the accident remains unknown.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd., a closely held company based in Maine that operated the train, is working with police and fire services to investigate the accident, Gomez del Prado said.
Joseph McGonigle, vice president of sales and marketing with the railway, said the train was unmanned when it derailed.
“The train got loose,” he said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. “It traveled under its own inertia to the center of town.”
McGonigle said the train’s conductor locked the brakes and checked that the rail cars were secure shortly before midnight. He then checked into a hotel. The locomotive detached a half-mile outside the town, and the rest of the cars carrying the crude kept moving.
Chris Krepski, a spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said four investigators have been sent to the scene of the accident and will arrive early this afternoon.
“My initial information is there were no injuries to the train crews,” Krepski said in a telephone interview. According to a release from the TSB, numerous cars derailed.
Montreal, Maine & Atlantic owns 510 route miles of track in Maine, Vermont and Quebec and employs about 170 people, according to the company’s website. It operates 15 trains daily with a fleet of 26 locomotives.
Telephone messages left with Robert Grindrod, chief executive officer, and Jean Demaitre, manager of train operations at the company, weren’t immediately returned.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Lam in Toronto at firstname.lastname@example.org