The official death toll has grown to three Lac-Mégantic, Que., one day after a derailed train carrying crude oil exploded in the town’s core, levelling buildings and forcing as many as 2,000 people from their homes.
Quebec provincial police said two more bodies were discovered overnight in the hardest hit area in the centre of town.
One death was confirmed Saturday in the town of about 6,000 people, located roughly 250 kilometres east of Montreal.
Officials fear the death toll will rise in the days to come as police sort through dozens of missing person reports filed by friends and family unable to get in contact with loved ones in the chaos Saturday.
"There are still people who have been reported as missing or unaccounted for," said Sûreté du QuébecLt. Michel Brunet. "We can’t give you a number. We know there will be other deaths. We are aware of that, but we can’t give you any numbers at this time."
The bodies have been transported to Montreal for autopsy. Police would not confirm any details about the deceased or where exactly they were located, saying families are still being contacted.
Fire officials confirmed that three out of the five tankers that were burning had been extinguished with foam. Two more are still on fire and are at risk of explosion.
Police said because of that ongoing situation, they haven't been able to access all areas. However, they did say investigators have been on the scene overnight speaking to witnesses.
"This is considered a crime scene by Quebec police," he said.
Train parked on hill before derailment
The president and CEO of Rail World Inc., the parent company of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said the train was parked uphill of Lac-Mégantic before the incident.
"If brakes aren't properly applied on a train, it's going to run away," Edward Burkhardt told The Canadian Press. "But we think the brakes were properly applied on this train." Burkhardt, who indicated he was mystified by the disaster, said the train was parked because the engineer had finished his run.
Many residents who have been forced from their homes are gathering at an evacuation centre set up by the Red Cross at a local school.
Nearly 1,000 people were forced to leave early Saturday morning and another 1,000 were under evacuation orders later that day because of air quality concerns.
"The majority of people have found a place with family and friends," said Myriam Marotte of the Red Cross.
"It's a small community and what we see is a lot of solidarity. People are helping each other."
Last night, 163 people stayed in that emergency shelter. Another 550 registered with the Red Cross so they could be accounted for.
In addition to food and shelter, psychological services are being provided to those who need it in the close-knit community.
"It's difficult for people who still are looking for loved ones," said Marotte. "It's also difficult for people who don't know what is going to happen in the next couple of hours and couple of days. Some people have lost everything."
Dozens still unaccounted for
CBC's Stephen Puddicombe spoke to one woman at that centre who said she hasn't heard from her 17-year-old daughter since the explosion. The girl was in the centre of town, the epicentre of the devastation, when the train derailed at about 1 a.m. Saturday.
An unofficial list of missing persons has been set up online for those still looking for loved ones and friends. Dozens of people once on that list have since been located, according to confirmations submitted online. The list is still more than 200 names long.
Police have not confirmed how many people have been officially reported missing. The Sûreté du Québec said they were still working to double check if some people had been added to the list more than once and cross off those who had been located.
Sgt. Grégory Gomez del Prado told CBC Saturday afternoon it's possible up to 100 people could be missing.
Witnesses described the scene as devastating.
"It's a mess," said Lac-Mégantic fire chief Denis Lauzon, who added that many historic buildings and the town's library and archives were destroyed.
Yves Faucher, who lives in the centre of town, was among the first wave of evacuees.
"I saw though my windows, it became bright like the sun. I thought it was an explosion," he said.
He said he tried to warn people to flee rather than stand around and watch the fire, fearing another explosion.
Witnesses reported hearing between five or six blasts as other tankers filled with oil burst.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has dispatched investigators to the scene.
The fire has been contained, but has not been fully extinguished.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to be on scene this afternoon.
with files from Canadian Press