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AT least one person is dead and many more are reported missing after a train carrying crude oil derailed in Quebec, Canada, sparking explosions and a major fire.
Up to 1000 people in the small town of Lac-Megantic were forced from their homes in the middle of the night as the blaze ripped through the town centre.
Witnesses say the eruptions sent residents scrambling through the streets under the intense heat of towering fireballs and a red glow that lit up the night sky. Quebec provincial police Lieutenant Michel Brunet has confirmed one person has died.
Authorities said the 73-car train derailed in the downtown about 1am local time on Saturday (3pm AEST). Several cars filled with crude oil exploded, sending flames and thick black smoke high into the sky.
About 120 firefighters from Lac-Megantic and nearby municipalities, including several from the United States, were called in to deal with the fire.
Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Picture: The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson
The fire spread to a number of homes in the lakeside town of 6000 people, and witnesses said the flames shot up higher than the steeple on a nearby church.
Flames and billowing black smoke could be seen more than 12 hours after the derailment, which involved a 73-car train.
"When you see the centre of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event," an emotional Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told a televised news briefing.
The cause of the derailment was not immediately known.
Smoke rises from a massive blaze in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, after a train carrying crude oil was derailed. Picture: Twitter.com
"On a beautiful evening like this with the bar, there were a lot of people there," said Bernard Demers, who owns a restaurant near the blast site. "It was a big explosion. It's a catastrophe. It's terrible for the population."
Demers, who fled his home, said the explosion was "like an atomic bomb. It was very hot. ... Everybody was afraid".
Charles Coue said he and his wife felt the heat as they sprinted from their home after an explosion went off a couple of hundred metres away.
"It went boom and it came like a fireball," he said.
A train derailment in Quebec's Lac-Megantic sparked explosions and forced the evacuation of up to 1000 people.Picture: The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson
Media reports said as many as 60 residents of the small town were missing.
The 73-car train had been parked and left unattended some distance from Lac Megantic, Reuters reported.
"Somehow the train got released," Montreal, Maine, & Atlantic Vice President Joseph McGonigle was quoted as telling Reuters.
Television footage from Fox News showed plumes of black smoke and huge flames billowing from several structures and The Wall Street Journal reported oil had already leaked into a lake and a river in the vicinity.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his sympathy in a statement.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those affected by this morning's tragic train derailment and subsequent fires in Lac-Megantic, Quebec," he said.
Police and firefighters secured a perimeter around the area, where about 30 buildings continued to burn.
It was not clear what caused the derailment. Investigators with the Federal Transportation Safety Board have been called in to investigate.
Provincial authorities also deployed a mobile environmental monitoring laboratory to monitor air quality. Authorities also worried that an unknown quantity of crude oil spilled into the Chaudiere River and Lake Megantic.
This article first appeared on www.news.com.au
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