Key facts confirmed in the Lac-Mégantic train blast

There are still many things unknown about the situation in Lac-Mégantic, devastated early Saturday morning by explosions that followed the derailment of a runaway train. Here's what we know so far.

Cause of crash and total number of dead still not known

Officials in Lac-Mégantic say 60 people are still believed to be missing, as residents begin returning home. (Quebec provincial police)

There are still many things unknown about the situation in Lac-Mégantic, devastated early Saturday morning by explosions that followed the derailment of a runaway train.

As the investigation continues, officials have confirmed some details about what occurred in the small Quebec town. Here's what we know so far:

Fatalities and missing

  • Quebec provincial police have confirmed 15 deaths and said their list of missing people has grown to 60, though they won't release the names.

Burning tankers 

  • It’s still unclear how many of the train’s 72 cars were involved in the initial blast and fire. 
  • On Sunday night, officials had said five tankers were still burning and posed a risk for further explosions.
  • By Monday evening the fires were out, but on Tuesday firefighters said there were still some hot zones that investigators could not reach.

 Water supply in Lac-Mégantic

  • Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet told CBC’s Quebec AM that he flew over the Chaudiere River, and that an estimated 100,000 litres of oil had spilled into the waterway. 
  • On Saturday night, town officials made an appeal for more potable water after a line was damaged inside the containment area. The town’s mayor said Sunday morning that the pipe was repaired and water has been restored to most areas. There is no known contamination to the drinking water reserves.
  • On Tuesday, a preventative boil water advisory remained in effect because of the disruption to the line.


  • The incident forced some 2,000 people, or roughly a third of the town's population, to leave their homes and seek shelter in local schools or with friends and family.
  • As of Tuesday, 1,200 had been allowed to return home.
  • The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at a school and said 150 people stayed there Saturday night. Another 550 registered with the Red Cross. Anyone who needs access to homes within the perimeter set up by officials to get items or feed pets is being told to go to the Mazda dealership on Laval Street.
  • Quebec Premier Pauline Marois announced $60 million in financial aid available to citizens and the municipality.

 Train had no engineer

  • 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. The engineer had finished his run and the company believes the brakes had been properly applied. The engineer left the train at 11: 25 p.m. and went to a hotel for the night. 
  • Shortly after a fire was reported on the parked train. Local firefighters extinguished the blaze.
  • The derailment happened less than two hours later.  

What we still don’t know

 The cause

  • It is still not certain what caused the train cars to roll downhill and leave the tracks. The company reports that the train was stopped 6.8 kilometres uphill from the town at 11:25 p.m. by the engineer. At some point before 1:15 a.m. ET, the train moved downhill. Railway personnel pulled 13 cars intact from the rear of the train at the scene."We will be taking a look at the black box. Hopefully we’ll recover that," Glen Pilon, an investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said Saturday afternoon.
  • It remains unclear whether the train's conductor had set enough hand brakes — which are meant to hold a train in place even if the air brakes fail — before he left the train for a shift change shortly before the fire broke out.
  • Police said they are investigating whether the derailment and subsequent explosion involved foul play or criminal negligence.
  • The Transportation Safety Board said it was looking into whether the train's operator — Montreal, Maine and Atlantic — followed proper safety procedures.

The exact number of missing and dead

  • Forensic specialists are conducting an investigation to identify victims.
  • Representatives from the coroner’s office said it could be possible that the damage was so significant, remains may not be recovered. The exact number of missing could change, police have cautioned, as people are located and others are reported.
  • Police are asking family members to provide DNA samples, from things like toothbrushes and combs, from their missing relatives in order to help investigators identify bodies

The full extent of the damage

  • Fire officials have said that 40 buildings have been destroyed in the centre of town where the train cars derailed, including the town’s library and archives. However, the full extent of the damage remains unknown.