The death toll in the devastating oil train derailment in Quebec reached 13 on Monday, while an estimated 37 people remained missing, officials said after investigators finally got near where the runaway train exploded.
Quebec provincial police Sgt. Benoit Richard said Monday eight more bodies had been found in the wreckage, after conditions improved enough for inspectors to get better access to the charred site two days after the disaster. Police would not say where the bodies were located for fear of upsetting families.
"All but one of the train's 73 tanker cars were carrying oil when they came loose early Saturday, sped downhill nearly seven miles (11 kilometers) into the town of Lac-Megantic, near the Maine border, and derailed. At least five of the cars exploded.
Maude Verrault, a waitress at downtown's Musi-Cafe, was outside smoking when she spotted the blazing train barreling toward her.
"I've never seen a train moving so fast in my life, and I saw flames ... Then someone screamed 'the train is going to derail!' and that's when I ran," Verrault said. She said she felt the heat scorch her back as she ran from the explosion, but was too terrified to look back.
The rail tankers involved in the derailment are known as DOT-111 and have a history of puncturing during accidents, the lead Transportation Safety Board investigator told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Monday.
TSB investigator Donald Ross said Canada's TSB has gone on record saying that it would like to see improvements on these tankers, though he acknowledged it's too early to say whether a different or modified tanker would have avoided this weekend's tragedy.
The DOT-111 is a staple of the American freight rail fleet. But its flaws have been noted as far back as a 1991 safety study. Among other things, its steel shell is too thin to resist puncture in accidents, which almost guarantees the car will tear open in an accident, potentially spilling cargo that could catch fire, explode or contaminate the environment."
Air brakes that would have prevented the disaster failed because they were powered by an engine that was shut down by firefighters as they dealt with a fire while the train was stopped overnight in Nantes, Quebec, the head of the railway that operated the train said on Monday.
"The train had been parked at a siding on a slope near the town of Nantes, which is 12 kilometers (8 miles) west of Lac-Megantic. The volunteer Nantes fire service was called out late on Friday night to deal with an engine fire on one of the train's locomotives.
Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert told Reuters the crew had switched off the engine as they extinguished a "good-sized" blaze in the engine, probably caused by a fuel or oil line break in the engine.
The problem was that the engine had been left on by the train's engineer to maintain pressure in the air brakes, Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), said in an interview. As the pressure gradually "leaked off," the air brakes failed and the train began to slide downhill, he said."
Canadian crash investigators say they will look at the two sets of brakes on the train: the airbrakes and the handbrakes. Members of the team are due to speak to reporters at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Tuesday.