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Canadian authorities launch criminal investigation into train explosion

Canadian authorities are launching a criminal probe into the train accident that has killed at least 15 people, with dozens more feared dead. When the train derailed and exploded it destroyed the center of Lac-Megantic.

Quebec police Inspector Michel Forget said Tuesday that investigators had "discovered elements" about the crash that led to a criminal investigation. He ruled out terrorism and said authorities were more likely exploring the possibility of criminal negligence, but no arrests have been made so far.

Officials from Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said more than a dozen investigators were examining the incident but that they had still not gained access to the central "red zone."

The death toll rose to 15 on Tuesday after the discovery of two bodies which were so badly burned they have yet to be identified. Police are still searching for about 35 people, but have little hope they will be found alive.

Runaway train

The unmanned Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train carrying crude oil derailed on a curve early on Saturday, engulfing the center of the lakeside town in a large fireball. The derailment destroyed around 30 buildings including the Musi-Cafe, a popular bar that was full at the time of the blast. The oil in the train was being transported from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to the eastern part of Canada.

Rail dispatchers had no chance to warn anyone about the runaway train because they did not know it was happening themselves, TSB officials said. The train line reportedly lacked the proper warning system.

Almost a third of the town's 6,000 residents were evacuated after the explosion.

The same train had caught fire just hours earlier in the nearby town of Nantes and the engine was shut down. Local firemen put out the fire and went home. The unattended train then rolled downhill toward Lac-Megantic, derailed and blew up in the town center just after 1 a.m. (0500 GMT) Saturday.

Edward Burkhardt, the CEO of the railway's parent company Rail World Inc., suggested to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that shutting the locomotive off to extinguish the fire may have disabled its brakes, allowing the train to roll away.

dr/hc (Reuters, AP)