The downtown core lays in ruins as fire fighters continue to water smoldering rubble on Sunday (AP Photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS,Ryan Remiorz)

Canada: 40 people still missing in runaway train blast, five bodies found

It took firefighters over 24 hours to extinguish the blaze.

OFFICIALS IN CANADA have found five bodies so far in their grim search for victims from the catastrophic derailment of an oil-laden cargo train, while 40 more are still missing.

Firemen in this picturesque Quebec lakeside town finally managed Sunday to put out the raging inferno sparked more than a day earlier when a driverless freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, sending fireballs skyward and unleashing a wall of fire that tore through downtown homes and businesses.

That meant police finally would be able to conduct a full search of the charred wreckage at the disaster scene.

But the accident devastated the center of this small town 250 kilometers east of Montreal, near the US border, and forced about 2,000 to flee their homes there. Locals struggled to come to terms with the scope of the disaster.

Fire fighters continued to water smoldering rubble on Sunday. (AP Photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS,Ryan Remiorz)

Many in this heavily Catholic area were unable to go to Sunday services because their church was squarely within the burned out area. The lucky ones headed to churches in nearby towns

No conductor on board

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) said in a statement that the train had been transporting 72 carloads of crude oil when it derailed

A spokesman for the rail line, Christophe Journet, said the train had been stopped in the neighboring town of Nantes, around 13 kilometers west of Lac-Megantic, 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.

The MMA have said that their representatives are at the scene “in spite of statements that MMA people have not been available,” it said.

The company said they would also be launching their own investigation into the smash, but have been prevented from doing so while the government continue with their investigation.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday offered his “thoughts and prayers” to the community, and said the federal government was ready to provide assistance.

The Red Cross also set up an emergency shelter at an area high schools to help those left homeless by the disaster.

- Additional reporting AFP

Related: 80 missing as train carrying oil derails and explodes in small Canadian town>

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