40 still missing in deadly Canada oil train crash

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (AP) – Hazardous conditions hindered
firefighters' attempts Monday to search for some 40 people still missing
after a runaway oil tanker train exploded over the weekend, killing at
least five people, officials said.

Quebec provincial police Sgt. Benoit Richard said
Monday morning there was no searching overnight because the situation
remained too dangerous.

He said only a small part of the devastated scene has been searched as firefighters made sure all flames were out.

Many of those missing were believed to have been
drinking at a popular downtown bar when the explosions occurred and
rescuers were still not able to reach the area, Richard said.

“Hopefully we'll be able to open up more areas for searching during the day,” he said.

Firefighters on Monday were focusing their efforts
on two oil-filled cars dousing them with water and foam in an attempt to
keep them from overheating and exploding.

All but one of the train's 73 tanker cars were
carrying oil when they somehow came loose early Saturday morning, sped
downhill nearly seven miles (11 kilometers) into the town of
Lac-Megantic, near the Maine border, and derailed, with at least five of
the cars exploding.

About a third of the community of 6,000 was forced from of their homes by the explosion and flames.

The growing number of trains transporting crude oil
in Canada and the United States had raised concerns of a major
disaster, and this derailment was sure to add to the debate over a
proposed oil pipeline running across the U.S. that Canada says it badly
needs.

“This is an unbelievable disaster,” said Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who toured the town Sunday and compared
it to a war zone. “This is an enormous area, 30 buildings just
completely destroyed, for all intents and purposes incinerated. There
isn't a family that is not affected by this.”

Anne-Julie Huot, 27, said at least five friends and about 20 acquaintances remained unaccounted for.

“I have a friend who was smoking outside the bar
when it happened, and she barely got away, so we can guess what happened
to the people inside,” Huot said. “It's like a nightmare.”

A coroner's spokeswoman said it may not be possible
to recover some of the bodies because of the intensity of the blasts.
Spokeswoman Geneviève Guilbault said the bodies are so badly burned that
identifying them could take a long time. She said none of the five
bodies that have been found so far have been identified and two have
been sent to Montreal for further analysis. All of the autopsies will be
conducted in Montreal because there is no laboratory in town.

For the second day in a row, she urged families of
the missing to come forward with details that could help them identify
the bodies, such as tattoos, dental records, or objects that would
contain the DNA of the deceased.

The train's oil was being transported from North
Dakota's Bakken oil region to a refinery in New Brunswick. Because of
limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and in Canada, oil
producers are increasingly using railroads to transport oil to
refineries.

The Canadian Railway Association recently estimated
that as many as 140,000 carloads of crude oil will be shipped on
Canada's tracks this year – up from 500 carloads in 2009. The Quebec
disaster is the fourth freight train accident in Canada under
investigation involving crude oil shipments since the beginning of the
year.

Harper has called railroad transit “far more
environmentally challenging” while trying to persuade the Obama
administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline
from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Greenpeace Canada said Sunday that
federal safety regulations haven't kept up with the enormous growth in
the shipment of oil by rail.

Officials with the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic
Railway said that despite the disaster, they feel transporting oil by
rail is safe.

“No matter what mode of transportation you are
going to have incidents. That's been proven. This is an unfortunate
incident,” said Joe McGonigle, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway's
vice president of marketing.

He said the company believes the train's brakes
were the cause. “The train was parked, it was tied up. The brakes were
secured. Somehow it got loose,” he said.

McGonigle said there was no reason to suspect any criminal or terror-related activity.

___

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies and Charmaine Noronha contributed from Toronto.

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