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Death toll climbs in Quebec train disaster

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec -- The death toll in the devastating oil train derailment reached 13 yesterday, while 50 people remained missing, officials said after investigators finally got near where the runaway train exploded.

Sgt. Benoit Richard of the provincial police said eight more bodies had been found in the wreckage, after conditions improved enough for inspectors to get better access to the charred site.

Police would not say where the bodies were located for fear of upsetting families.

All but one of the train's 73 tanker cars were carrying oil when they came loose early Saturday, sped downhill nearly seven miles into the town of Lac-Mégantic, near the Maine border, and left the rails. At least five of the cars exploded.

The blasts destroyed about 30 buildings, including a public library and a popular bar that was filled with revelers.

Richard said inspectors could now go where they needed. Officials had to wait for firefighters to douse the flames and cool the oil tankers that could have exploded.

Investigators had been able to get closer to some of the "hot spots," such as the area near the destroyed Musi-Café, with the help of firefighters, he said.

The area remained part of a criminal investigation and all options were being explored, including the possibility that someone tampered with the train, Richard said.

Queen Elizabeth II expressed deep sadness over the disaster, saying in a message through the federal government that the loss of life "has shocked us all."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had toured the town Sunday.

The train's owners said they believed brake failure was to blame. Officials were also looking at a locomotive blaze on the same train a few hours before the derailment.

Meanwhile, crews were working to contain 27,000 gallons of light crude that spilled from the tankers and made its way into nearby waterways.

The growing number of trains transporting crude oil in Canada and the United States had raised concerns of a major disaster, and this derailment was sure to bolster arguments that a proposed oil pipeline running from Canada across the United States -- one that Canadian officials badly want -- would be safer.

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