A fireball that engulfed a small Canadian town after a runaway train crashed is thought to have claimed the lives of up to 60 drinkers in a late-night bar.
The Musi-Cafe, a live music venue in the lakeside town of Lac-Megantic, was among 30 buildings destroyed by blasts "like an atom bomb" after a train pulling wagons of oil derailed on a bend.
The train, which had been left by its driver overnight at the top of a hill eight miles away, barrelled into the town at high speed after the brakes holding it stationary apparently failed.
So fierce was the blaze that rescue workers were still unable to enter the crash site 36 hours later, fearing some of the train's oil tanks could still explode.
Police said yesterday that there had been five confirmed fatalities so far, but added that at least 40 people were missing and that the final death toll could be even higher.
"All we'll find will be their teeth," said one fireman, anticipating the charred state of some of the bodies.
Bernard Theberge (44), who was smoking a cigarette outside the Musi-Cafe, told how he fled just in time after hearing the approaching train and realising it was about to crash.
"It was going way too fast," Mr Theberge told Canada's 'Globe and Mail' newspaper. "I saw a wall of fire go up . . . I grabbed my bike, which was just on the railing of the terrace. I started pedalling and then I stopped and turned around. I saw that there were all those people inside and I knew right away that it would be impossible for them to get out."
Mr Theberge added: "There were maybe 60 people inside."
The cause of the crash, which happened early on Saturday, was still being investigated.
Christophe Journet, a spokesman for the Montreal Maine & Atlantic company, said the train had stopped in the neighbouring town of Nantes, eight miles west of Lac-Megantic, for a crew changeover.
Mr Journet said, for reasons that were as-yet unknown, the train "started to move down the slope leading to Lac-Megantic", even though the brakes were engaged.
Bernard Demers, who owns a restaurant near the blast site, said the explosion was "like an atomic bomb".
Meanwhile, the town's 6,000 residents were starting to grieve. "Everybody who didn't make it back is dead," said Frederique Mailloux (38), who added that six of her friends were missing. "I have cried every tear in my body."
Jacques Bolduc had provided a DNA sample to potentially identify his son, Guy Bolduc (23), who was singing at the Musi-Cafe.
"The police told us there is no hope," Mr Bolduc said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)