The downtown core lays in ruins as fire fighters continue to water smoldering rubble Sunday

The downtown core lays in ruins as fire fighters continue to water smoldering rubble Sunday

About 40 missing in Quebec train disaster

LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. — About 40 people were declared missing amid a rising death toll in a Quebec town that saw its downtown core obliterated by the fiery explosions of a runaway train.

LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. — About 40 people were declared missing amid a rising death toll in a Quebec town that saw its downtown core obliterated by the fiery explosions of a runaway train.

Five people were announced dead one day after explosions and fireballs razed much of Lac-Megantic, as tanker cars filled with crude oil hurtled down a hill and derailed in the middle of town.

Authorities warned Sunday that a higher death toll is inevitable.

After viewing the devastation, Prime Minister Stephen Harper likened what was once the heart of Lac-Megantic to a ”war zone.”

The incident has also shone the spotlight on the contentious political debate over oil transportation, and Canada’s rapidly expanding oil-by-rail industry which has seen a stunning 28,000-per-cent increase over the past five years.

The search for victims in the charred debris has been hampered by the fact two of the train’s cars continued to burn Sunday morning, creating a no-go zone and concerns of other potentially fatal explosions.

Provincial police were initially hesitant to estimate the number of people unaccounted for and offered a figure Sunday for the first time since the derailment.

“We have to be careful with that number because it could go up or down,” Quebec provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet told a news conference.

Brunet said two bodies were found overnight and another two on Sunday morning. The first body was discovered Saturday.

Two pathologists have arrived in the town and more have been called in to take on the grim task of identifying human remains.

About 30 buildings were destroyed, including Le Musi-Cafe bar where partygoers were enjoying themselves in the wee hours of a glorious summer night.

The multiple blasts over a span of several hours sent people fleeing as the explosions rocked the municipality of 6,000, about 250 kilometres east of Montreal.

”It’s a beautiful downtown here that’s been destroyed… There’s really going to be a need for substantial reconstruction,“ Harper said after seeing some of the damage.

”I saw this on the international news yesterday… Everywhere people are talking about this.“

In terms of financial aid, Harper said there is a formula that calculates the federal response for events like this.

When asked about railway safety concerns, Harper said it was too early to discuss causes. His office issued a statement later in the day through social media, scolding Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair for suggesting lax federal regulations might be to blame.

“We don’t have a lot of the facts, and it would really not be responsible to comment without all the facts,” Harper said.

The prime minister said the federal Transportation Safety Board, and also the police, would be investigating. Police are treating the area as a possible crime scene.

Harper promised to draw lessons from the TSB conclusions to prevent a repeat of such a tragedy.

“We will conduct a very complete investigation,” Harper said, “and we will act on the recommendations.”

Harper greeted and shook hands with people at a shelter for evacuees, which was set up at a high school after nearly a third of the town’s residents were forced from their homes Saturday.

Throughout the day Sunday, people streamed in and out of the shelter.

Health-care workers offered services such as psychological counselling, while volunteers handed out snacks and bottled water.

Locals shared their experiences from the night of the blasts.

A few people recalled how they darted into the streets after the explosion and ran alongside neighbours, some wearing nothing but boxer shorts.

Others who gathered outside the shelter Sunday hugged and wiped tears as they braced for bad news about unaccounted-for loved ones.

Henri-Paul Audette headed there with hope of finding his missing brother.

He said he had been told by an acquaintance that his brother, Fernand, had registered at the shelter. But, when he got there, he saw that his 58-year-old sibling’s name wasn’t on the list.

Audette, 69, said his brother’s apartment was next to the railroad tracks, very close to the spot where the train derailed.

“I haven’t heard from him since the accident,” he said.

“I had thought … that I would see him.”

Another man who came to the shelter said it’s difficult to explain the impact this incident has had on life in Lac-Megantic.

About a third of the community was forced out of their homes.

Countless businesses, houses, and pieces of local infrastructure are gone in the town of 5,900, which grew in the late 19th century around the railway in the picturesque Eastern Townships region near the Maine border.

David Vachon said he has one friend whose sister is missing and another who is still searching for his mother.

“It’s incredible. It affects the entire town,” said Vachon, whose home was also evacuated.

“It’s such a small town that everybody knows each other.”

On Sunday the railway, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, said the locomotive was somehow shut down after the engineer left the train.

It said he had locked the brakes before leaving the train.

That shutdown ”may have resulted in the release of air brakes on the locomotive that was holding the train in place,” the statement said.

”As mentioned above, we don’t have complete information concerning this incident, but will co-operate with government authorities as they continue their investigation.”

The president of the railway’s parent company, Rail World Inc., had said the train was parked uphill of Lac-Megantic before it became loose and began careening into town.

There might have been warning signs hours before the disaster.

Witnesses in the neighbouring community of Nantes, where the train had been parked before breaking loose, said Sunday that they had seen sparks and a cloud of diesel smoke as it came to a stop a few hours before the derailment.

Lac-Megantic’s fire chief said that Nantes firefighters had answered a call about a fire aboard the locomotive less than three hours before the train rumbled into Lac-Megantic.

Federal TSB officials said they planned to interview all possible participants as part of what they called a “360-degree,” top-to-bottom, investigation.

They said they had retrieved a so-called “black box” from the train Sunday.

Just Posted

Firefighters and emergency services workers helped celebrate Barry Young’s 85th birthday at Timberstone Mews on May 29. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters in central Alberta make birthdays special

A fire truck arriving outside your house is not normally good news.… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Crimson Villas, a seniors housing facility in Red Deer has finally opened its doors. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Red Deer senior housing facility opens its doors

Crimson Villas, named after Red Deer’s official flower, has officially bloomed. The… Continue reading

The Town of Ponoka, who has typically leased the main stampede grounds to the Ponoka Stampede and Exhibition Association, is transferring the land to the association. (Photo by Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
AB Gov’t to provide more grants for live event organizers

Live events will be getting a boost from the provincial government over… Continue reading

Alberta government committed $7 million last year for an integrated shelter service to help Red Deer's homeless population. (Photo by Advocate staff)
City of Red Deer finds only one viable location for emergency shelter

City of Red Deer administration is recommending the Cannery Row Emergency Shelter… Continue reading

A large number of supporters were out Saturday at a rally intended to bring awareness about including Hinduism in the grade 2 portion of the K-6 draft curriculum. As it stands now, Hinduism won’t be taught until grade 6 in the proposed draft curriculum. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Video: Rally to support adding Hinduism to draft curriculum draws crowd in Red Deer

The Hindu community in Red Deer came out in droves on Saturday… Continue reading

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Germany's Robin Gosens, left, celebrates Germany's Mats Hummels after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between Portugal and Germany at the football arena stadium in Munich, Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
Germany clicks at Euro 2020 with 4-2 win over Portugal

MUNICH (AP) — Germany finally clicked into gear at the European Championship,… Continue reading

Fans cheer on their team during the pre-game warmup of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal with the Montreal Canadiens facing the Vegas Golden Knights, in Montreal, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs Fever in Quebec as Montreal continues playoff run

MONTREAL — The sun hadn’t yet risen in Montreal on Friday morning… Continue reading

Coronavirus cases are on the rise from India to South Africa and Mexico, in a May 19, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Anti-government protesters took to the streets in… Continue reading

A black bear cub forages for food along a salmon stream below a bear viewing spot for tourists in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in Juneau, Alaska.  (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bandit responsible for vehicle break-ins is a black bear

THORNTON, N.H. (AP) — Surveillance video helped police get to the bottom… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 25, 2019 file photo, Editor Rick Hutzell, center, gives a speech to his staff including Chase Cook, Nicki Catterlin, Rachael Pacella, Selene San Felice and Danielle Ohl at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its newsroom, is leaving the Maryland newspaper. Hutzell, who worked at the Annapolis paper for more than three decades, authored a farewell column that was published on the paper's website Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Ulysses Muoz/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Editor of paper that endured newsroom shooting says goodbye

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won… Continue reading

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II look on, during day five of of the Royal Ascot horserace meeting, at Ascot Racecourse, in Ascot, England, Saturday June 19, 2021. (David Davies/PA via AP)
Queen beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as she attended… Continue reading

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20 per cent of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, data suggests

TORONTO — Canada has hit two of the vaccination targets government officials… Continue reading

Most Read