Explosive Train Crash in Quebec Evacuates a Border Town

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Update, Sunday 9:54 a.m.: Police officials announced at a press briefing this morning that there are now three people confirmed dead because of the explosion. The Globe and Mail has the definitive explanation of how this tragedy occurred in the paper's Sunday edition. The train was stopped about 12 kilmeters away from Lac-Mégantic for a routine shift change on Friday night, and then a series of questionable, unfortunate events led to the unthinkable: 

The train’s brakes and safety system were functional when the conductor left, according to company spokesman Christophe Journet. The conductor inspected the train and its load before leaving for a local hotel. A replacement crew was slated to come later during the night. Sometime before 1 a.m. ET, the train’s load of 73 cars broke loose and began rolling towards the small town. Before it reached Lac-Mégantic, the locomotive also broke free.

Then, chaos. The Sunday cover of Journal de Montreal is also one not to miss.

Update, 9:11 p.m.: The latest updated numbers have at least 80 people still missing almost 24 hours after the explosion.

Update, 4:14 p.m.: The Associated Press confirms at least one person was killed because of the train crash. 

Original: Fires raged well into Saturday afternoon in Quebec after a train carrying petroleum products derailed and decimated a small town, causing damage to over 30 buildings and forcing residents out of their homes. The Globe and Mail reports over 1,000 people were evacuated after the crash.  NBC News reports police have set up a half-mile perimeter around the site where several tankers went off the tracks and crashed in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, around 1 a.m. Saturday morning. The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic freight train travelling to Maine crashed in the small border town, and the ensuing explosions destroyed huge portions of downtown. There are no reported injuries, but some people are still missing as the town goes searching for answers.

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The pictures and videos that surfaced showing the intensity of the blaze are terrifying. The photo above, showing a Jesus statue watching over the town as as the sun was rising over raging flames, circulated widely Saturday morning. The videos showing multiple explosions happening are straight out of a Hollywood effects nightmare  (via The New York Times): 

This aerial photo shows just how much of the city was damaged in the aftermath of the explosion: 

For now, the town is focusing on containing and recovering from this horrific event. "When you see the center of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event," Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told reporters on Saturday. "There are still wagons which we think are pressurized. We're not sure because we can't get close, so we're working on the assumption that all the cars were pressurized and could explode. That's why progress is slow and tough," fire chief Denis Lauzon told Reuters.

The cause of the crash is still being investigated, but regardless of the cause this latest tragedy should put significant pressure on the federal government to bolster train safety regulations. At the beginning of June, Transport Minister Denis Lebel decided to ignore most of the recommendations put forward by a Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation into train derailments in Canada after an incident in 2012 killed three people and injured dozens of others. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.