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People missing after train explodes

A large swath of a Quebec town was demolished on Saturday after a train derailment sparked several explosions and a blaze that sent spectacular flames shooting metres into the sky.

Up to 1,000 people were evacuated in Lac-Megantic, about 250 kilometres east of Montreal.

Some people were reported missing, although Quebec provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet said it was too early to say if there were casualties.

Flames and billowing smoke could be seen several hours after the derailment, which involved a 73-car train carrying crude oil.

Authorities set up perimeters as firefighters battled to douse the persistent blaze which was still going despite a steady drizzle.

Worried residents looked on behind the perimeters amid fears some of their friends and loved ones may have died in bars and in their homes after the early-morning derailment.

"We're told some people are missing but they may just be out of town or on vacation," Brunet told a news conference.

"We're checking all that, so I can't tell you at the moment whether there are any victims or people who are injured."

Lac-Megantic resident Claude Bedard described the scene as "dreadful."

"It's terrible," Bedard said. "We've never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone."

Some of the train's 73 cars exploded and the fire, which could be seen for several kilometres, spread to a number of homes.

"The flames in the sky were really impressive," said resident Pierre Lebeau.

A large but undetermined amount of fuel also spilled into the Chaudière River.

Several neighbouring municipalities, including Sherbrooke and Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, were enlisted to help Lac-Megantic deal with the disaster. U.S. firefighters also were called.

The train belongs to Montreal Maine & Atlantic, which says on its website that it owns more than 800 kilometres of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.

The train was reportedly heading toward Maine.

The cause of the derailment was not immediately known.

Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette said the 73 cars were filled with crude oil and that four were damaged by fire and the explosions.

"Right now, there is big smoke in the air, so we have a mobile laboratory here to monitor the quality of the air," Blanchette said in an interview.

"We also have a spill on the lake and the river that is concerning us. We have advised the local municipalities downstream to be careful if they take their water from the Chaudiere River."

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