Some residents warily eyed the driverless "ghost train" as it rushed through the Quebec countryside. The train derailed, crashed into this small town, engulfing the downtown area in flames.
Now scores of people -- perhaps as many as 80 -- are missing.
Rescuers cautiously entered the charred debris Sunday, more than 24 hours after the spectacular crash that saw flames shoot into the sky and burn into the night.
The accident and resulting huge fireball forced 2,000 people from their homes. Witnesses reported up to six explosions after the train derailed at about 1:20 am (0520 GMT Saturday) in Lac-Megantic.
Officially, as of late Saturday, only one person was killed and one wounded.
The train -- 72 tanker cars loaded with crude oil pulled and pushed by five locomotives -- left Montreal, 250 kilometers to the west, and was heading to the port of St. John on Canada's Atlantic coast.
Instead, its final destination was this picturesque resort town of 6,000 residents in a corner of the Appalachia mountains near the border with the U.S. state of Maine.
In this region of thick forests, the sky is normally so clear that U.S. astronomers use the local observatory to peer into the sky.
The town's history has been intimately linked to the rail line since settlers streamed out of train cars in the 19th century as they settled the region.
The town's motto is "from the railway to the Milky Way," said Remi Tremblay, the top editor of L'Echo de Frontenac, the local newspaper.
"I can show that this motto was on the motto of the flags that decorate the main road... but they have probably melted," he said.
Tremblay, like some 2,000 other residents, was forced to leave his home, which was near the two square kilometer area consumed by flames.