Five more bodies found in Lac-Megantic, raising death toll to 33
Published Saturday, July 13, 2013 8:01AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, July 13, 2013 7:18PM EDT
Five more bodies were recovered in Lac-Megantic, Que. Saturday as crews continue to search the area devastated by last week’s deadly train derailment.
The official death toll in the town now stands at 33, while 17 others remain missing.
Nine of the 33 dead have been identified, and authorities are expected to release some of their names soon.
“The conditions are absolutely awful, and they’ll continue to be,” Michel Forget, an investigator with Quebec’s provincial police, told reporters during a news conference on Saturday.
Forget said search crews are required to wear specialized equipment due to the toxic fumes at the crash site.
He said the recovery effort is expected to continue for weeks.
Earlier Saturday, the community honoured the victims with a moment of silence.
Under clear skies, Lac-Megantic residents held a full minute of silence as the bells of the Ste-Agnes church rang 50 times at noon. That number was intended to honour the 50 individuals whose bodies have been recovered and the missing who are, by now, presumed dead.
As the bells tolled, residents gathered on the church steps with their heads bowed in silence. Some held photos of loved ones and quietly wiped away tears.
Search crews also suspended their efforts for the moment of silence.
“All worked stopped and it was a very emotional moment for them,” Forget said.
Residents of the small community of around 6,000 said the tribute comes at a critical time.
"Think of the people who are enduring this, who are in mourning," Jean-Denis Martel said, as he sat in the church on Friday.
“It's good to take a moment of silence, for those with loved ones. It's not easy. It hurts bad."
It’s been one week since the devastating train derailment.
On July 6, just after 1 a.m., a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Inc. train came barrelling into Lac-Megantic, skipped the tracks and exploded into a series of massive fire balls. The 72-car train was carrying crude oil destined for New Brunswick.
The train had been parked in the nearby town of Nantes, about 12 kilometres away. It was left unattended, with the engineer at a hotel for the night.
Throughout the week, as the death toll rose each day, residents who were still missing loved ones came to the heart-breaking realization that their missing family members were likely dead.
A candlelight vigil was held Friday night on the steps of the Lac-Megantic church, despite town officials asking residents to stay home.
With much of the town’s downtown core still considered a crime scene, Quebec provincial police said they couldn’t spare the resources to monitor a large crowd or vigil.
Still, small groups of families and friends came together to mourn and find comfort in their community.
"In one way or another, we're all affected," Bianca Fillion said.
West of Lac-Megantic in Montreal, a group mounted a small shrine in front of the Notre-Dame Basilica to show their support for the town.
"Solidarity,” resident Richard Lafontaine said. "We're participating in a movement of solidarity for the region and especially the town."
Vigils were also held in communities throughout Quebec including Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Trois Rivieres and Gatineau. Winnipeg also held a vigil for Lac-Megantic.
Next week, three benefit concerts are scheduled for Montreal, Quebec City and St-Georges-de-Beauce.
The past week has also seen anger building in the town as residents struggle to understand how the disaster could have happened.
Quebec provincial police have cordoned off a large part of the town’s downtown as they continue their investigation.
The federal Transportation Safety Board has said its own probe into the derailment will likely take months.
"This may well be the most devastating rail accident in Canadian history," board chairwoman Wendy Tadros told a news conference recently.
With files from The Canadian Press