An eastbound freight train with 72 carloads of crude oil, five locomotives and no engineer derailed and exploded Saturday in Lac-Megantic, a town of about 6,000 people in the province of Quebec. At least one person was killed in the disaster that happened around 1:15 a.m. EDT.

However, Canadian Industry Minister Christian Paradis indicated the death toll was likely to rise. “I hope there are not too many dead,” Reuters quoted Paradis as telling the public broadcaster Radio-Canada. “It’s really terrifying. I think the worst is yet to come.”

Apparently confirming this assessment, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Corp. said in a statement: “We have reports of explosions and buildings in the city on fire, and a number of fatalities and injuries. Emergency response teams are at the site coordinating rescue efforts, but access to the site is limited while they continue to fight the fires.”

Lac-Megantic Train Wreck-July 6, 2013

Firefighters look at a train car on fire at Lac-Megantic, a town of about 6,000 people in the province of Quebec.

Photo: Reuters

Four of the MMA train’s cars blew up in a huge fireball that mushroomed hundreds of feet into the air, Reuters reported. The blaze destroyed dozens of buildings, many of them totally flattened, eyewitnesses said. One woman told Radio-Canada she had been unable to contact about 15 of her friends, the news agency said.

Addressing the antecedents of the incident, MMA said in its statement: “Early reports indicate that the train was stopped and tied down by the locomotive engineer at 11:25 PM on the mainline at Nantes, a station approximately 6.8 miles west of Lac Megantic, for a crew change. Subsequently, the train moved downhill into the town of Lac-Megantic, where the derailment occurred. The engineer was not on the train, but had proceeded to his resting point at a hotel in Lac-Megantic. He is safe.”

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The railway added, “MMA will cooperate with government safety agencies in determining cause.”