There are still about 40 people missing 48 hours after a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Quebec. While the remains of only five people killed in the blast have been found, officials say those missing might have been vaporized in the inferno.
"It is not impossible when we look at the intensity of the explosion," said Genevieve Guilbault, a spokeswoman for the provincial coroner’s office, on Sunday. “We can deduce that many of the bodies are severely burned. That complicates identification, but all necessary means at our disposal will be used to identify them.”
The oil fires in the town of Lac-Megantic, about 155 miles from Montreal, burn so long and with such intensity that authorities say a higher death toll is inevitable.
As of Sunday, only a small part of the blast area was searched, said Provincial police Sgt. Benoît Richard, while firefighters continued to put out fires. Once authorities are able to reach the hardest-hit areas, they fear the death count could soar.
"I can tell you that we have met a lot of people ... and what I can tell you is that about 40 people are considered missing," said Quebec provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet. "We have to be careful with that number because it could go up or down."
The train carried 72 oil-filled tanker cars. They somehow came loose at about 1 a.m. on Saturday and tumbled down a hill nearly seven miles into downtown Lac-Megantic. They then blew up one by one – at least five exploded. Two of the cars were still burning on Sunday.
Anne-Julie Huot, 27, said she knows 25 people who are still missing. She counts herself as lucky to have been working that night, otherwise she would have been at a popular bar, which was leveled in the explosion.
“I have a friend who was smoking outside the bar when it happened, and she barely got away, so we can guess what happened to the people inside," Huot said. "It's like a nightmare. It's the worst thing I can imagine.”