LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec — As firefighters doused still-burning railway cars filled with oil, more bodies were recovered Sunday in this devastated town about 10 miles from the Maine border, raising the death toll to five after a runaway train derailed, igniting explosions and fires that destroyed the downtown district. With dozens of people reported missing, authorities feared they could find more bodies once they reached the hardest-hit areas.
Quebec provincial police Lieutenant Michel Brunet said Sunday that about 40 people have been reported missing, but cautioned that the number could fluctuate.
‘‘We met many people who had reported family members missing. Right now I can tell you about 40,’’ Brunet said.
Brunet confirmed two more deaths early Sunday afternoon after confirming two people were found dead overnight. One death was confirmed Saturday.
All but one of the 73 cars were filled with oil, which was being transported from North Dakota’s Bakken oil region to a refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
The eruptions early Saturday morning sent residents of Lac-Megantic scrambling through the streets under the intense heat of towering fireballs and a red glow that illuminated the night sky.
Local Fire Chief Denis Lauzon likened the charred scene to ‘‘a war zone.’’
The search for victims in the charred debris was hampered because two tanker cars were still burning Sunday morning, sparking fears of more potentially fatal blasts.
Joe McGonigle, the vice president of marketing for the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said the company believes the brakes were the cause. He said the company, the railway’s operator, has been in touch with Canada’s Transportation Safety Board.
Edward Burkhardt, the president and chief executive of Rail World Inc., the parent company of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said the train had been parked uphill of Lac-Megantic because the engineer had finished his run. The tanker cars sped downhill nearly 7 miles into the town before derailing.