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Lac-Mégantic disaster: Here's what we know so far

A volunteer escorts an evacuee to pick up supplies from her home near the blast site Monday, July 8, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Que. Five people are confirmed dead and 40 more are listed as missing at the site of the blast during a train derailment.

RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Investigators are looking into how an unmanned train carrying thousands of barrels of oil derailed near a small Quebec town early Saturday, exploding into flames and leaving at least five dead and 40 others missing.

Here's what we know so far of events leading up to the explosions:

At about 11:25 p.m. Friday, an engineer leaves the train, including five locomotives and 72 cars, parked in Nantes, about 12 kilometres west of Lac-Mégantic. The engineer secures the brakes, then leaves for a local hotel as the train awaits a crew change.

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  • At 11:30 p.m., a fire breaks out onboard the train, and fire crews in Nantes respond to the call.
  • By midnight, the fire is extinguished, and emergency officials leave the scene. The train is left in the hands of two representatives from the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), the company that operates the train.
  • Between midnight and 1 a.m. Saturday, the train begins rolling unmanned toward Lac-Mégantic. It’s unclear what causes the train to begin moving, but MMA later blames the locomotive’s air brakes. The locomotive was “shut down subsequent to the departure of the engineer,” according to the company, depriving its air brakes of the power needed to keep the load from careening downhill.
  • At around 1 a.m., the train derails at the Rue Frontenac road crossing in Lac-Mégantic. This sets off a series of explosions that destroy at least 30 buildings and 100 homes.

As of Monday afternoon, at least five people are dead and at least 40 missing. The death toll is expected to continue rising as officials comb through the wreckage to search for bodies.

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