LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec — "This is an unbelievable disaster," said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who toured the town Sunday and compared it to a war zone. "This is an enormous area, 30 buildings just completely destroyed, for all intents and purposes incinerated. There isn't a family that is not affected by this."
Anne-Julie Huot, 27, said at least five friends and about 20 acquaintances remained unaccounted for.
"I have a friend who was smoking outside the bar when it happened, and she barely got away, so we can guess what happened to the people inside," Huot said. "It's like a nightmare."
A coroner's spokeswoman said it may not be possible to recover some of the bodies because of the intensity of the blasts. Spokeswoman Geneviève Guilbault said the bodies are so badly burned that identifying them could take a long time. She said none of the five bodies that have been found so far have been identified and two have been sent to Montreal for further analysis. All of the autopsies will be conducted in Montreal because there is no laboratory in town.
For the second day in a row, she urged families of the missing to come forward with details that could help them identify the bodies, such as tattoos, dental records, or objects that would contain the DNA of the deceased.
Health and civil security officials held a separate news conference and said some residents might be allowed back home later Monday.
The train's oil was being transported from North Dakota's Bakken oil region to a refinery in New Brunswick. Because of limited pipeline capacity in the Bakken region and in Canada, oil producers are increasingly using railroads to transport oil to refineries.
The Canadian Railway Association recently estimated that as many as 140,000 carloads of crude oil will be shipped on Canada's tracks this year — up from 500 carloads in 2009. The Quebec disaster is the fourth freight train accident in Canada under investigation involving crude oil shipments since the beginning of the year.