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Huge explosions hit Quebec town as freight train carrying hundreds of tons of crude oil derails

Up to 1,000 people evacuated and around 30 buildings destroyed

A freight train carrying petrol has derailed in the middle of a small Canadian town, with explosions from pressurised tanker cars killing at least one person and forcing the evacuation of up to 1,000 people.

Police in Lac-Megantic, a lakeside town in the province of Quebec, said that it was too early to determine if there were any casualties, but several people have been reported missing.

The train of 73 cars came off the rails just after 1am local time (05:00 GMT), and it is reported that four tanks full of petrol blew up, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air.

Fire officials said around 30 buildings had been destroyed, both by the initial blasts and by the fire that followed.

“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,” said a tearful town Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche at a press conference.

She added that everything was being done to tackle the fire, saying: “We have deployed all resources to ensure that we can support our citizens.”

Lac-Megantic, with a population of 6,000, sits just on the border with US states Maine and New Hampshire, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that American firefighters had been brought in to help tackle the blaze.

In total around 100 firefighters were working to bring the flames under control on Saturday morning, and fire officials said there was a risk that more of the pressurized tankers would explode.

“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.

Police spokesman Michel Brunet told reporters: “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.”

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.

The cause of the derailment is under investigation. A spokesperson for Quebec provincial police told CBC it is still early too early to say what caused it.