At least three people missing after explosion at Quebec propane company
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At least three people are missing following an explosion at a fuel distribution company in the Lanaudiere region, Quebec provincial police (SQ) say.
As of 10:30 p.m. Thursday, no deaths have been confirmed.
The explosion occurred at 11:17 a.m. Thursday at a propane facility in St-Roch-de-l'Achigan, about 50 kilometres north of Montreal.
Located on Rte. 339 near Saint-Régis Road, Propane Lafortune is a family-run company that offers propane services in the Lanaudiere region.
It's too early to say what caused the blast. However, experts are investigating the possibility that a truck inside the facility's garage exploded, CTV News has learned.
Earlier in the day, the SQ could only confirm one worker was missing following the incident. But by Thursday evening, that number had risen to three. Police say the number could be even higher.
Explosion at a propane company in St-Roch de l'Achigan (photo: Michel Varin)
SQ spokesperson Eloise Cossette said police were unable to access the scene for much of the day because of the fire, which wasn't under control until Thursday evening.
Searches will be conducted throughout the night to locate potential victims, but could be complicated by the heavy snow.
The rubble will likely take days to comb through, Cossette noted.
Quebec emergency responders are searching through the wreckage of an explosion at a St-Roch-de-l'Achigan propane facility on Jan. 12, 2023. (CTV News / Cosmo Santamaria)
50 FIREFIGHTERS DEPLOYED
It took a team of some-50 firefighters from St-Roch-de-l'Achigan, Repentigny, Rawdon, Ste-Julienne and St-Lin-Laurentides to put out the flames.
Fire Chief François Thivierge said the first units to arrive couldn't immediately intervene due to the risk of explosions.
Officials were extra prudent due to safety risks and concerns that oil or gas could end up in a nearby river.
A drone was used to assess the risk so firefighters could continue their operation,Thivierge explained.
Buildings within a one-kilometre radius of the blast were evacuated Thursday, affecting hundreds of residents.
Roughly 50 people were able to return by 6:30 p.m.
A support centre is available for those who need it in the basement of the St-Roch-de-l'Achigan church, and a hotline has been set up for citizens who want information about the ongoing fire: 514-347-7041.
Evacuees after the explosion in St-Roch de l'Achigan, Que. are able to stay in a nearby church. (CTV News Montreal / Max Harrold)
Suzanne Lafortune, who has no relation to the business, lives in the area.
She said she was evacuated from her home after the explosion and that her son rushed to the scene to help out.
"I thought it was an accident because I heard the explosion and I looked and I saw a big fire and my daughter called 911," she said, describing the dramatic scene to reporters Thursday afternoon.
"We can't stay in our home because it's very dangerous."
Karine Lamarche also lives nearby.
"It was shaking, I thought something had fallen on the house," she told The Canadian Press, recounting how the explosion had shaken her home.
"We know the people who work there a little bit, we heard like everyone else that people were missing," Lamarche added. "It's a shame, it's sad. It touches me, because it's a company that's right next door."
Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon, St-Roch de l'Achigan Mayor Sebastien Marcil tearfully addressed the roughly 5,000 inhabitants of his community.
"My thoughts are with those close and far who have been touched by this incident," he said.
PROPANE LAFORTUNE RESPONDS
In an emailed statement to The Canadian Press, the Lafortune family said it has offered its full co-operation to authorities and quickly called emergency services after the explosion and fire.
"We are deeply upset by this event and we are monitoring the situation closely," the statement said.
"This is the first time in 60 years that our company has experienced such an ordeal. Our hearts go out to our employees, their families and anyone who may be affected by this difficult situation."
Quebec Premier Francois Legault also reacted to the incident on Twitter.
"My thoughts are with the people of St-Roch-de-l'Achigan and the employees of Propane Lafortune," tweeted Quebec Premier Francois Legault, adding, "Please be vigilant and respect the evacuation measures. I would like to thank all the emergency services teams who are on site."
Public Security Minister François Bonnardel said his office is "following the situation closely," adding "our thoughts are with the workers."
With files from The Canadian Press.
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