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40 still missing as Quebec train crash search continues

By Agencies in Quebec, Canada | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-09 07:10

Firefighters' attempts to search for some 40 people still missing after a runaway oil tanker train exploded over the weekend, killing at least five people, were hindered by hazardous conditions on Monday, officials said.

Quebec provincial police Sergeant Benoit Richard said on Monday morning that there was no searching overnight because the situation remained too dangerous.

He said only a small part of the devastated scene has been searched as firefighters made sure all flames were out.

Many of those missing were believed to have been drinking at a popular downtown establishment when the explosions occurred and rescuers were still not able to reach the bar, Richard said.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to open up more areas for searching during the day," he said.

The five locomotives and 72 oil cars had been parked close to Lac-Megantic on Friday night. The brakes then somehow released and the train gathered speed as it rolled down a hill into the center of the town early on Saturday morning.

It derailed and exploded into a gigantic fireball, flattening dozens of buildings and killing at least five people.

On Monday, firefighters were focusing their efforts on two oil-filled cars, dousing them with water and foam in an attempt to keep them from overheating and exploding.

About a third of the community of 6,000 was forced from their homes by the explosion and flames.

The growing number of trains transporting crude oil in Canada and the United States had raised concerns of a major disaster, and this derailment was sure to add to the debate over a proposed oil pipeline running across the US that Canada says it badly needs.

"This is an unbelievable disaster," said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who toured the town on Sunday and compared it to a war zone. "This is an enormous area, 30 buildings just completely destroyed, for all intents and purposes incinerated. There isn't a family that is not affected by this."

Anne-Julie Huot, 27, said at least five friends and about 20 acquaintances remained unaccounted for.

"I have a friend who was smoking outside the bar when it happened, and she barely got away, so we can guess what happened to the people inside," Huot said. "It's like a nightmare."

A coroner's spokeswoman said it may not be possible to recover some of the bodies because of the intensity of the blasts. Local authorities said the bodies are so badly burned that identifying them could take a long time. They said none of the five bodies that have been found so far have been identified, and two have been sent to Montreal for further analysis.

AP-Reuters

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