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. Reuters

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.”

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.”

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