By Lauren Russell and Umaro Djau
(CNN) — At least five people were killed and “many more” deaths are expected to be reported in a small Canadian town devastated by an exploding runaway train, local police said.
Around 40 people are listed as missing in the tiny lakeside town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, local police spokesman Lt. Michel Brunet said in a press conference. Friends and families are scrambling to find their loved ones.
More than 17,000 people have joined a Facebook page to help people connect with their loved ones in the town. Locals and outsiders have posted desperate notes to try to figure out where their friends and family were on the night of the crash.
Some posts bring relief — “Mom it is alisun and oceannie and rosaly we are all alive I love you,” one reads in French.
Others look less promising.
Multiple posts ask about Guy Bolduc, a singer who was performing at Musi-Cafe in town.
“All of his fans, all over Quebec, but also his fellow singers (of whom I am one) hope to see him again alive!!! Come on my GuyBol, come out of your hiding place,” one member wrote.
The group administrators ask that members not post about deaths until they’re confirmed.
The train, pulling more than 70 tankers of crude oil, had been parked for the night 7 miles away from Lac-Megantic, according to a statement from the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. It slipped downhill, derailed, then crashed into downtown, leveling homes and historic buildings. Tankers exploded, sending thick plumes of smoke into the night sky.
At a press conference Sunday, police spokesman Michel Brunet said “we know that there will be many more” deaths.
Residents told CNN affiliate CBC they have never seen anything like it.
“It’s dreadful,” Claude Bedard said. “It’s terrible. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.”
Firefighters are still working to extinguish two burning tank cars that are at risk of exploding, said Lac-Megantic Fire Chief Denis Lauzon. Firefighters have to stay 500 feet away from the tankers still on fire.
“It’s like the town has been cut by a knife,” Sgt. Gregory Gomez del Prado told the CBC.
The train’s engineer stopped for the night and “tied down” the train 7 miles away from the town before he checked into a motel Saturday night, the company statement said. The train had stopped for a crew change.
“Railway personnel were able to pull 13 carloads intact from the site at the rear of the train,” the statement said. “We extend heartfelt condolences to those residents of Lac-Megantic who have lost their homes and businesses, and particularly those who have suffered injuries and lost loved ones.”
Authorities evacuated more than a third of the town of 6,000 people, most from the center of the town and a home for the elderly.
As authorities worked to get more details, residents of the scenic town grappled with the loss.
Resident Amanda Gabrielle said the train crashed on her birthday. She lost her dog, she’s now homeless, and she doesn’t have any family or friends.
“I lost everything,” Gabrielle told the CBC. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.”
Emergency services were working overnight to deal with the crisis.
“We have deployed all resources to ensure that we can support our citizens,” Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said.
Firefighters from the United States are helping to fight the blaze. Five trucks deployed from Franklin County, Maine.