By Julio Cesar Rivas.


Canadian police on Tuesday raised to 15 the death toll in the derailment and explosion of a train carrying petroleum in the little town of Lac-Megantic but said that 65 people may have died in the disaster since 50 are still missing.

The Quebec Provincial Police (PPQ), which is in charge of the investigation of the accident, also said that they have evidence leading them to believe that the derailment early Saturday morning could be the result of a criminal act.

PPQ spokesman Michel Forger said that he did not want to speculate on the evidence in question and added that the remains of many of the missing people may never be recovered, so great was the destruction in town from the blast and fire.

After the derailment of part of the train made up of five locomotives and 72 cistern cars each loaded with 100 tons of petroleum, several of the cars burst into flames and the fire spread to the surrounding buildings in the center of town, including a crowded bar, destroying dozens of them.

Firefighters could not extinguish the flames until Monday.

Meanwhile, more than 1,200 of Lac-Megantic's 6,000 residents were authorized to return to their homes although the risk of further explosions and the presence of toxic products in the air is forcing several hundred other people to remain evacuated.

Recovery teams are moving through the burned and collapsed rubble of the ground zero area, but the Quebec Forensic Office said Tuesday that none of the charred human remains found so far have been able to be identified even as to the sex of the victims.

Meanwhile, Canadian transportation safety investigators have begun analyzing the data from the "black box" of the train, which was operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways, or MMA, a U.S. firm.

Investigators confirmed Tuesday that at the time of the derailment the train was traveling into town at an excessive speed. The main locomotive detached from the rest of the train and continued on through town," said transportation safety official Donald Ross at a press conference.

Ross confirmed that the train was halted on Friday night at the Nantes station, 11 kilometers (about 7 miles) from Lac-Megantic, and that before midnight firefighters were called to the train to put out a fire.

After the firefighters and the engineer left the site, the train began to move downhill without anyone on board about 1 a.m. Saturday morning. It derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic at 1:14 a.m. and several of the cistern cars exploded setting fire to the nearby buildings.

The Canadian Transportation Ministry confirmed Tuesday that MMA was authorized to operate the train with just one engineer, adding that although it is not normal practice to leave a train parked on the main line without an engineer while a shift change was pending - as was done in this case - it is not illegal.

On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had visited the town and said that it looked "like a war zone."

Lac-Megantic is located 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Montreal. EFE