Lake Megantic Quebec - At least one person was killed after an early-morning train derailment sparked a series of explosions and a massive fire that ripped through the eastern Quebec town of Lake Megantic.
Authorities confirmed the fatality at a Saturday afternoon media briefing, describing the crash site as a "war zone."
No other injuries have been reported.
Several people have been reported missing, but fire and police officials say some of them may have been out of town at the time of the derailment.
The fire continues to burn in the community, and federal investigators from the Transportation Safety Board have not yet been able to access the crash site.
Police said the train derailed shortly after 1 a.m. and firefighters remain at the scene as they attempt to get the fire under control.
"Words cannot tell the damage that had been done," Quebec provincial police Sgt. Gregory Gomez del Prado said. "Many, many, buildings have been damaged. It's a catastrophe for the town of course, but also for the whole province."
How it Happened
Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Inc., which owns the train, says the train was unattended and "came loose" overnight.
A representative from the company told CTV News that the trained was parked and secured in Nantes, Quebec, just west of Lake Megantic, late Friday night. The two town centres are about 12 kilometres apart.
Joe McGonigle, a vice president at Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, said the train "came loose" between 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and "started rolling down the tracks."
He said the train's engine was found about one kilometre from where the explosions took place.
The train's conductor, who was at a hotel in Lake Megantic when the train derailed, is being questioned by police, according to McGonigle.
According to the company's web site, the railway serves Maine, Vermont, Quebec, and New Brunswick and owns more than 800 kilometres of rail tracks.
Looking for Missing Residents
A number of residents in the town have been reported missing.
At least 1,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes in Lake Megantic, and remain at a local high school.
Those who can't get in touch with their loved ones are urged to go to the local high school, where they can meet with investigators.
A Facebook group was quickly set up to help people track down loved ones who couldn't be reached by phone.
"We're in emergency mode," Gomez del Prado said. "Trying to reassure the families, trying to get in touch with the people missing."
A number of the train's 73 cars exploded in the derailment, causing a fire that spread to several of buildings in the community.
"There were 73 wagons in that train last night, and almost all of them are on fire right now," Quebec provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet said.
Damage to Town
Police said about 30 buildings in downtown Lake Megantic have been affected by the fire.
Lake Megantic resident Claude Bedard told The Canadian Press that the town has never seen anything like the fire.
"It's terrible," he said. "The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone."
A number of neighbouring communities, including Sherbrooke and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, were asked to help Lake Megantic deal with the fire.
"Firefighters are working hard to extinguish that fire, but it's burning hard because of the crude oil," Gomez del Prado said. "So we're trying to secure the area for now and after that we'll try to extinguish the fire as soon as we can, but that's going to take a while for sure."
The cause of the derailment was not immediately known.
Brunet said some crude oil has spilled into the lake and there's some concern about fumes surrounding the derailment site.
"Right now, so far, the smoke is going very high, so there's no problem for the population so far," he said.