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|10 Temmuz 2013, 08:41||#1 (permalink)|
Lac-Megantic train blast: Criminal inquiry under way
The BBC's David Willis speaks to survivors of the explosion
A criminal inquiry has been launched in Canada into the derailment of an oil train that killed at least 15 people in a small Quebec town on Saturday.
Quebec police inspector Michel Forget said investigators had found evidence leading them toward a criminal probe.
The runaway train derailed in the town of Lac-Megantic, exploding and destroying dozens of buildings.
Investigators are focusing on whether the brakes were released as it was parked in a town several miles away.
In addition to the dead, as many as 35 others remain unaccounted for. Authorities have asked the relatives of the missing to provide DNA samples by bringing in toothbrushes, hairbrushes, razors and other items.
But the authorities have also warned some of the bodies may have been burnt to ashes in the explosion and may never be recovered.
The train, carrying 72 cars of crude oil, was parked shortly before midnight on Friday in the town of Nantes about seven miles (11km) away.
An engineer apparently left the train with four of its five locomotives shut down, but kept the final one running to ensure the brakes were engaged.
Soon, a Nantes fire crew was summoned to put out a blaze on the train.
For some reason, the train's brakes apparently failed soon after. It began moving downhill on the track and over its 18-minute journey, gathered speed until it derailed in Lac-Megantic and exploded.
"The extent to which [the fire] played into the sequences of events is a focal point of our investigation," Transportation Safety Board investigator Donald Ross said.
Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert said that while his crews tackled the initial blaze, the final locomotive was shut down.
He said this was the standard operating procedure agreed with the train's US owner, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA).
But MMA maintains the decision to shut off the locomotive to put out the fire could have disabled the brakes.
The rubble was so hot that workers were unable immediately to enter the site to search for bodies and begin the investigation
MMA's chief executive Ed Burkhardt is expected this week to visit Lac-Megantic, where he could face a hostile reception.
At least 30 buildings were destroyed by the fireball that resulted from Saturday morning's explosion, including a store and the public library.
Maude Verrault, a waitress at the Musi-Cafe, a nightspot razed by the blast, was outside smoking when she spotted the runaway train.
"I've never seen a train moving so fast in my life, and I saw flames," she told the Associated Press news agency.
"Then someone screamed, 'the train is going to derail!' And that's when I ran."
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