Lac-Megantic, Quebec • Canadian authorities have opened a criminal investigation into a deadly oil train derailment that killed at least 15 people over the weekend.
Quebec police inspector Michel Forget told a news briefing Tuesday that investigators have "discovered elements" that have led to a criminal probe.
Forget did not give details, but he ruled out terrorism.
Officials say 50 people are still missing from Saturday’s disaster, including those dead.
Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
Blackened debris, twisted metal and gas leaks hampered rescue workers’ search for perhaps dozens of bodies Tuesday, three days after a runaway oil train smashed into this small lakeside town and incinerated much of its downtown.
Thirteen people were confirmed dead and nearly 40 others were still missing in a catastrophe that raised questions about the safety of transporting oil by rail instead of pipeline.
Investigators zeroed in on whether a blaze on the train a few hours before the disaster set off the deadly chain of events.
Rescue workers labored to reach the bodies believed to be in the ruins.
"This is a very risky environment. We have to secure the safety of those working there. We have some hotspots on the scene. There is some gas," Quebec Provincial Police Sergeant Benoit Richard said.
He said recovery efforts had to be halted briefly Monday for health reasons, and some officers had to be removed from the scene. He did not elaborate. The bodies that have been recovered were burned so badly they have yet to be identified.
The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train broke loose early Saturday, speeding downhill nearly seven miles (11 kilometers) and jumping the tracks at 63 mph (101 kph) in Lac-Megantic, near the Maine border, investigators said. All but one of the 73 cars were carrying oil. At least five exploded.
The blasts destroyed about 30 buildings, including the Musi-Cafe, a popular bar that was filled at the time, and forced about a third of the town’s 6,000 residents from their homes.
Rail dispatchers had no chance to warn anyone during the runaway train’s 18-minute journey because they didn’t know it was happening themselves, Transportation Safety Board officials said Tuesday. Such warning systems are in place on busier lines but not on secondary lines, said TSB manager Ed Belkaloul.
Resident Gilles Fluet saw the approaching train just before the derailment and explosions.
"It was moving at a hellish speed," he said. "No lights, no signals, nothing at all. There was no warning. It was a black blob that came out of nowhere."
He had just said goodbye to friends at the Musi-Cafe and left. "A half-minute later and I wouldn’t be talking to you right now," he said.
"There are those who ran fast and those who made the right decision. Those who fooled around trying to start their cars to leave the area, there are probably some who burned in them," Fluet said. "And some who weren’t fast enough to escape the river of fire that ran down to the lake, they were roasted."
The same train caught fire hours earlier in a nearby town, and the engine was shut down — standard operating procedure dictated by the train’s owners, Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert said.
Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of the railway’s parent company, Rail World Inc., suggested that shutting off the locomotive to put out the fire might have disabled the brakes.
"An hour or so after the locomotive was shut down, the train rolled away," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.Next Page >
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