LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec — The death toll in the devastating oil train derailment in Quebec reached 13 on Monday, while about 40 people remained missing, officials said after investigators finally got near where the runaway train exploded.
Quebec provincial police Sgt. Benoit Richard said Monday eight more bodies had been found in the wreckage, after conditions improved enough for inspectors to get better access to the charred site two days after the disaster. Police would not say where the bodies were located for fear of upsetting families.
All but one of the train’s 73 tanker cars were carrying oil when they came loose early Saturday, sped downhill nearly seven miles into the town of Lac-Megantic, near the Maine border, and derailed, with at least five of the cars exploding.
The blasts destroyed about 30 buildings, including a public library and a popular bar that was filled with revelers. Five bodies were found over the weekend.
Richard said inspectors could now go where they needed. Officials had to wait for firefighters to dose the flames and cool the oil tankers that could have exploded.
Investigators had been able to get closer to some of the “hot spots,” such as the area near the destroyed Musi-Cafe, with the help of firefighters, he said.
“It’s a zone that we’ve started to work on and we’ll work on it more in the hours to come,” he said.
The area remained part of a criminal investigation and all options were being explored by investigators, including the possibility that someone intentionally tampered with the train, Richard said.
Queen Elizabeth II earlier expressed deep sadness over the disaster Monday, saying in a message through the federal government that the loss of life “has shocked us all.” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured the town Sunday and compared it to a war zone.
The train’s owners said they believed brake failure was to blame. “Somehow those brakes were released, and that’s what is going to be investigated,” Joe McGonigle, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway’s vice president of marketing, said Sunday.
Officials were also looking at a locomotive blaze on the same train a few hours before the derailment.