World Bulletin/News Desk
Several tanker cars of petroleum products exploded after a train derailed in the middle of a small town in the Canadian province of Quebec early on Saturday in a blast that destroyed many buildings and sent flames hundreds of feet into the air.
Police in Lac-Megantic, a lakeside town of about 6,000 people, said they have been unable to determine if there were any casualties. Fire officials said around 30 buildings in the town center were destroyed, some by the initial blast and others by the subsequent fire.
"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," a tearful town Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told a televised news briefing.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said four pressurized tanker cars blew up after the train, which had 73 cars in all, came off the rails shortly after 1 a.m. (0500 GMT). Fire officials said they feared more of the tanker cars were at risk of exploding.
Around 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
Lac-Megantic is part of Quebec's picturesque Eastern Townships region, close to the border with Maine and Vermont. Quebec is a predominantly French-speaking province in the eastern half of Canada.
Pictures taken in the moments after the disaster showed a huge fireball rising into the night sky. Residents told reporters they had heard five or six large blasts.
Huge clouds of thick black smoke were still rising from the center of Lac-Megantic several hours after the disaster.
Fire officials said they had asked for help from fire services in the United States. Around 20 fire engines were fighting the blaze.
Police said some cars had spilled their contents into the river that runs through the town.
"I can say absolutely nothing about victims... We've been told about people who are not answering their phones, but you have to understand that there are people who are out of town and on holiday," police spokesman Michel Brunet told the briefing.
The rail line is operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, which owns some 510 miles (820 km) of track in Maine and Vermont in the United States and in Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada.
Fire officials said the contents of the tanker cars that blew up had been pressurized.
"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," said local fire chief Denis Lauzon.
Satellite images show the railroad snaking through downtown, following a route parallel to the shore of the lake that the town is named after, before heading inland and crossing the U.S. border to the west of town.
There have been a number of high-profile derailments of trains carrying petroleum products in Canada recently, including one in Calgary, Alberta, last week when a flood-damaged bridge sagged toward the still-swollen Bow River. The derailed rail cars were removed without spilling their cargo.Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Temmuz 2013, 17:05