Lac-Mégantic Disaster Now A Criminal Investigation As Deaths Mount

Five people are dead and at least 40 are still missing a day after a runaway train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, igniting explosions and fires that destroyed a busy downtown district. Lac-Megantic, a lakeside town of 6,000 circled by forests of pine and birch, is in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, about 160 miles east of Montreal and close to the border with Maine in the U.S. About 2,000 people, a third of the population, were evacuated. The flames were finally extinguished by firefighters on Sunday evening, more than 40 hours after the disaster struck.


"Bernard Théberge received second-degree burns on his right arm while fleeing from the patio of the downtown Musi-Café, where many are thought to have died, but he said he hadn’t seen any other burn victims when he went to the hospital Saturday.

One Red Cross volunteer who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media put it bluntly: “You have to understand: there are no wounded. They’re all dead.”

That absence of injured is one of the most haunting signals to have emerged from the train explosion, which police says has left five people confirmed dead and about 40 people unaccounted for nearly two full days after the first blast.

The Quebec coroner’s office said that the five corpses they have hauled out of the wrecked downtown core have not been positively identified and have been taken to Montreal for forensic testing that may include DNA examination and other methods. Spokesperson Genevieve Gaudrault said the intensity of the initial blast and the flaming wagons that were still burning well into Sunday suggests that some victims may have simply been vapourized."

The local hospital has become a temporary home for now homeless senior citizens who resided in the downtown district, making room for them wherever there's a spot to be spared, be it a room or the hallways.

"It looks like a war zone here," said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who visited the town on Sunday. "This is an unbelievable disaster. ... There isn't a family in this area that is not touched by this, that is not affected by this."

The ravaged site is now being treated as a “crime scene” as the railway says someone shut down a locomotive keeping the brakes on.


"Ed Burkhardt, chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said Sunday night that the train’s sole engineer shut down four of the five locomotive units on the train, as is standard procedure, in the neighbouring community of Nantes before heading to Lac Mégantic to sleep. Burkhardt said the next engineer was probably due to arrive at daybreak.

But someone managed to shut down the fifth locomotive unit, he said. That’s the one that maintained brake pressure to keep the train in place.

“If the operating locomotive is shut down, there’s nothing left to keep the brakes charged up, and the brake pressure will drop finally to the point where they can’t be held in place any longer,” Burkhardt said.

There are two ways to shut down the fifth unit: There’s an emergency lever on the outside of the locomotive that anyone wandering by could access. Or, there are a number of levers and buttons inside the unlocked cabin.

Both means were used, said Burkhardt."

Nantes Mayor Sylvain Gilbert told a local radio station that the town's firefighters had dealt with a fire on the train when it was parked there on Friday night. It remained unclear if that fire was connected in any way to the derailment.

Montreal Maine & Atlantic didn't mention the fire at Nantes in their statement, and company officials couldn't be reached for further comment.

Crude Oil Leaking from Disaster Area Affecting Neighboring Communities

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train had five locomotive engines and 73 cars filled with crude oil from the Bakken Shale Fields in North Dakota. A railcar generally can carry between 25,000 and 30,000 gallons of oil. Given its more than 70 cars, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train that derailed had the capacity to be carrying 1.8 million to 2.2 million gallons of oil.

As the oil that has leaked from the oil tankers travels downstream, many are beginning to ask why dangerous cargo was being routed directly through a populated downtown area.


"About 80 kilometres downriver from the town of Lac-Mégantic is the community of Saint-Georges, a town that draws its drinking water from the same river that passes by the site of the deadly explosions.

Since the explosion, the crude oil being carried by the train has leaked into the nearby waterways, traveling downstream to Saint-Georges.

Fears that the water is contaminated with hydrocarbons have prompted authorities in Saint-Georges to draw water from a nearby lake instead of the Chaudière river.

However, the secondary source will not be able to supply the full 10,000 cubic metres of water used by the town every day.

Residents are being asked to reduce their water consumption for the time being.

Floating barriers have also been installed on the river to help block the hydrocarbons from contaminating the water, but it's unclear how long residents of Saint-Georges will have to wait before their water supply returns to normal."

The National reviews the situation in Lac-Mégantic:


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service (revised 3/17/2016) for information on our posting policy.