07/08/2013 10:23 EDT | Updated 09/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Lac-Mégantic residents recall moment of explosion

Residents in Lac-Mégantic, Que., are still trying to process the scope of the devastation after a train explosion razed the centre of the town of 6,000.

Almost every resident has been affected by the disaster, from those who saw the massive fireball early Saturday to those who are waiting for words of missing friends.

Claude Charron: 'I could feel the heat on my arms'

Pharmacist Claude Charron and his wife frequently walk a bike path near the railway tracks, and they recently counted 123 rail cars go by. Charron said his wife remarked about what might happen if the train ever derailed, but he told CBC News Network on Monday that they never dreamed of anything like the scene that unfolded Saturday.

Soon after 1 a.m. ET, his wife heard the train crash and woke him up. They headed out on their balcony, which was facing away from the crash site.

"A minute after we were on the balcony we saw the first explosion," he said. "The sky [went] red, and we saw the fire run up maybe 100 or 150 feet up in the sky."

Neighbours banged on their door saying they needed to leave. "We ran out to our car, and I could feel the heat on my arms."

Charron ran a pharmacy near the explosion, but his first concern was for his three daughters. They were all safe.

The pharmacy is still inaccessible, and security cameras show that the sprinkler system went off shortly after the explosion. He doesn't expect the building to be salvageable, but they've already rented a new location and expect to be open by Tuesday morning.

Charron said the scale of the disaster was still sinking in, and he found out early Monday that a woman who once worked at his pharmacy had died.

"I've been a pharmacist here for 43 years. I know everybody. I know everybody by their first name, and just to know that some of them have died — I don't know what to say about it," he said, choking up.

Anne-Julie Huot: 'It's like a nightmare'

Locals are convinced the death toll will be far higher than five. Anne-Julie Huot, 27, said at least five friends and about 20 acquaintances remained unaccounted for.

She said she was lucky to be working that night. Otherwise, she likely would have been at a popular bar that was leveled by the blast.

"I have a friend who was smoking outside the bar when it happened, and she barely got away, so we can guess what happened to the people inside," Huot said. "It's like a nightmare. It's the worst thing I can imagine."

Henri-Paul Audette: "I had thought that I would see him."

Henri-Paul Audette headed to a shelter in hopes of reuniting with his missing brother, whose apartment was next to the railroad tracks, close to the place where the train derailed.

"I haven't heard from him since the accident," Audette said. "I had thought … that I would see him."

About a third of the community was forced out of their homes.