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

The accident in the Quebec town, located around 250 kilometers east of Montreal, created a fireball and forced 2,000 people from their homes.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

AT LEAST 80 people are 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  Quebec town, located around 250 kilometers east of Montreal, created a fireball and forced 2,000 people from their homes.

Officials earlier only confirmed one fatality, but had warned the toll could rise. A search for bodies was to begin this morning at dawn.

A statement from the train company, The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic , they have “reports of a number of fatalities and injuries” and although “emergency response teams are at the site coordinating rescue efforts, access to the site is limited while they continue to fight the fires”.

The firefighter said on condition of anonymity that there had been at least 50 people in one bar that was consumed by the flames.

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

Witnesses reported as many as six explosions after the train derailed in Lac-Megantic, a picturesque resort town of 6,000 residents near the border with the US state of Maine.

Michel Brunet, a spokesman for Quebec’s provincial police, said late Saturday the official death toll remained at one but added: “We expect there will be more fatalities.”

An initial evacuation zone of a kilometer around the crash site was widened as a precaution against harmful particles in the air, bringing the total to 2,000 people forced to leave their homes.

Residents wait outside an emergency centre for news of family and friends following the train derailment. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

Around 150 firefighters were battling the blaze, including some who came across the border from Maine, just 25 kilometers south of the town.

The Montreal Maine & Atlantic (MMA) train consisted of five locomotives and 72 rail cars and was carrying oil from the US state of North Dakota, said the company’s vice president of marketing, Joe McGonigle.

More to follow

- Additional reporting AFP, 2013

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