Runaway Train Explodes in Canadian Town, 5 Dead, Scores Missing

The center of a Quebec town has been wiped out, according to the mayor, after a runaway freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a fireball at 1am on Saturday. Scroll downward to read the latest updates.

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WATCH: Lac-Megantic in Quebec, entire town evacuated after freight train carrying oil derails

READ: Derailed train explodes in Lac-Megantic, Quebec

The centre of a small town in Quebec, Canada, has been destroyed, after a train carrying petroleum products exploded. The train was in the town of Lac-Megantic, close to Quebec's border with Maine, in the early hours of Saturday morning when it came off the rails.

The disaster occurred shortly after 1 a.m. (0500 GMT) when the runaway freight train with 72 cars and five locomotives sped into Lac-Megantic, a lakeside town of about 6,000 people in the province of Quebec near the Maine border, and left the rails.

Around 1,000 local people were evacuated from their homes. Police said they had been unable to determine whether there were any casualties.

All but one of the 73 rail cars were filled with oil, which was being transported from the Bakken oil region of North Dakota to a refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

There was no one on board operating the train. An engineer had stationed the train overnight and reportedly followed all procedures to set its stationary braking.

Gallery: Derailed train explodes in Lac-Megantic

Wiped out: Piles of brick are all that remain of several buildings close to where the rail cars exploded

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Extensive: The damage caused by the runaway train extends over a couple of blocks in the town center

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Scorched: Burnt out cars and rubble can be seen as the railway cars continue to burn

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Doused: Water is sprayed on to a burning rail car close to the railway track

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Rubble: The remains of a building flattened in the blast can be seen through the smoke

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Derailment: Smoke is still filling the streets around where the 73-car freight train derailed

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Pollution: Environmental workers are monitoring the plumes of smoke, as well as contamination of a river

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DETAILS ON CASUALTIES: Thousands to flee homes, 5 dead, 40 missing

People whose homes have been badly damaged are being sheltered at a nearby school

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Officials said they had few reports of injured victims, suggesting that people caught up in the blast either died on the spot or managed to escape. One woman told Radio-Canada that she had been unable to contact around 15 of her friends

At least five people died and 40 were missing on Sunday after a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the center of a small Canadian town in a disaster that raised fresh questions about shipping oil by rail.

The death toll from Saturday's blast stands at five; there are fears it will rise further as 40 people are missing.

People gathered under trees, hiding from the glaring sun, hugging, crying. Others arrived by the dozen from across Quebec, their vehicles laden with food, toys, clothing, for those forced from their homes.

Canada's PM likens train-wrecked town to 'war zone'

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has visited the town where a train carrying crude oil came off the rails and exploded, killing five people.

"This is an unbelievable disaster," Mr Harper said. "This is a very big disaster in human terms as the extent of this becomes increasingly obvious."

He added: "You know, it looks like a war zone here. A large part of the downtown has been destroyed, it's just, it is really just terrible."

PICTURES: Residents said the explosion looked the the end of the world, as thick smoke and flames filled the sky

Rescue: As the town was evacuated residents watched in horror as the fire spread.

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Explosive: Balls of fire and thick smoke fill the sky above Lac Megantic after a train carrying crude oil derailed

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Fireball: A cloud of fire is blasted into the sky above Lac Megantic after a freight train exploded

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Devastation: Residents said the explosion looked the the end of the world, as thick smoke and flames filled the sky.

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When you see the center of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event,' the town's mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, said.

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