LAC-MEGANTIC, Canada — Three people were confirmed dead and at least 80 people are still missing after a driverless oil tanker train derailed and exploded in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, destroying dozens of buildings.
The accident in the small Quebec town, located about 155 miles east of Montreal, created a spectacular fireball and forced 2,000 people from their homes.
Canadian police on Sunday raised the death toll to three and said they expected to find more bodies.
“Three bodies have been found," police spokesman Michel Brunet told reporters. "People have been reported missing or disappeared but . . . we are not going to issue a figure. We know there are going to be more deaths."
The firefighter Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity that there had been at least 50 people in one bar that was consumed by the flames.
"There is nothing left," he said.
Witnesses reported as many as six explosions after the train derailed in the picturesque resort town of 6,000 residents near the border with Maine.
"I was sleeping when it happened," Rene Bolduc, who said he lived within a few hundred yards of the site of the accident, told Reuters news service. "There was a boom and the inside of my house turned red with the color of the flames."
Bolduc said he saw people running as the flames towered overhead. “It felt like the hairs on my arms and face were burning off," he said.
Brunet, a spokesman for Quebec's provincial police, said there were "several reports" from people who said they were unable to reach relatives who lived near the accident site, Brunet said.
"The fire is still raging, our investigators have not yet even be able to get close to the scene," he added, more than 12 hours after the incident.
An initial evacuation zone of about three miles around the crash site was widened Saturday as a precaution against harmful particles in the air, bringing the total to 2,000 people forced to leave their homes.
Around 150 firefighters were battling the blaze.
The cause of the crash was still unknown, but a spokesman for the Montreal Maine & Atlantic company, Christophe Journet, told AFP the train had been stopped in the neighboring town of Nantes for a crew changeover.
For an unknown reason, Journet said, the train "started to advance, to move down the slope leading to Lac-Megantic," even though the brakes were engaged.
As a result, "there was no conductor on board" when the train crashed, he said.
A team of investigators from Canada's transportation safety agency was quickly dispatched to the scene to investigate.
One witness, Nancy Cameron, posted a photo on social media websites showing one of the train's locomotives spouting flames near Nantes.
Other witnesses were in Lac-Megantic when the train came barreling in.
"When we came out of a bar, we saw cars arriving in the center of town at full speed," Yvon Rosa told Radio-Canada.
"We heard explosions and there was fire everywhere. We ran to the edge of the water," Rosa said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his "thoughts and prayers" to the community and said the federal government was ready to provide assistance.
The Montreal Maine & Atlantic train consisted of five locomotives and 77 rail cars and was carrying oil from North Dakota, said the company's vice president of marketing, Joe McGonigle.
But Quebec authorities spoke of 72 cars transporting 100 tons of oil each. "Around 10 cars have been secured and separated from the train," the Quebec emergency agency said in a statement.
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