13 dead, dozens still missing in Lac-Megantic
Published Monday, July 8, 2013 6:13AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 9, 2013 12:19AM EDT
The death toll from the devastating train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., has risen to 13 and dozens are still missing, officials confirmed Monday.
Sgt. Benoit Richard, from the Quebec Provincial Police, said that eight additional bodies were recovered Monday, adding to the five bodies that were found over the weekend.
Roughly 40 people are still considered missing, after a train derailed early Saturday, causing a number of explosions and fires.
The bodies will be transported to Montreal for forensic analysis and identification, he said.
Families from Lac-Megantic who are still missing relatives are being asked to provide DNA samples to the coroner’s office to help identify victims.
Richard said a number of areas which had previously been off-limits to firefighters and police because of safety concerns are now accessible.
As a result, police and fire crews will now broaden their search for victims, he said.
The locations that will now be searched include Le Musi-Café, which was busy with patrons at the time of the blast.
He added that the area is still being considered a crime scene, and investigators will be thorough in their probe.
“We have 12 crime scene investigators along with major crime unit are on the scene, so we have a lot of space that is being checked on by all the officers over there,” he told CTV News.
The coroner is asking relatives for DNA samples from personal items like toothbrushes, combs and razor blades.
The federal Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the derailment.
The train – which had passed through Toronto and Montreal before the disaster – was headed for the Irving Oil Refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Train was inspected night before derailment
Federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel said the train was inspected by Transport Canada in Montreal on July 5, the night before it derailed.
No deficiencies were found during the inspection, Lebel said during a news conference in Lac-Megantic Monday afternoon.
He said rail safety is improving in Canada and that the number of train accidents had dropped by 23 per cent since 2007.
Lebel denied allegations that the Conservatives had cut the number of transportation safety inspectors. He said the government had invested over $100 million in funding for safety initiatives since 2009.
The minister would not comment on what may have caused the derailment, but said the government will issue sanctions if the investigation finds that safety regulations were violated.
Residents may soon return home
The news of the additional bodies came just hours after officials said residents may soon start returning home.
Around 1,500 evacuees from Lac-Megantic, Que., will start to return home in a matter of days, after being forced to evacuate following the derailment.
Jean-Thomas Fortin, a Quebec public safety officer, said that the resettlement plan will be announced to the public Tuesday. He added that he hoped the reintegration will start the same day, but he could not confirm that would be the case.
“It will mean that the vast majority of residents currently evacuated will be able to go back to their homes,” he said during a news conference Monday afternoon.
While no specific timeline was provided, he said officials were hoping for the reintegration to be complete in a matter of days, not weeks.
Fortin, along with Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche, said there were still a number of issues to address before residents can be returned, including air and water quality.
Air and water quality testing showed safe levels in the community, officials said. However, there was some contamination on the ground and on buildings, which crews would eventually clean up.
Officials also said Monday that 40 buildings were destroyed, including a number of heritage buildings and the public library.
The multiple blasts over a span of several hours rocked the community of 6,000 residents, about 250 kilometres east of Montreal.
Condolences, offers of help pour in
As news of the disaster spread, condolences began to pour in for the devastated community.
The Queen sent a message through the federal government saying that the loss of life in Lac-Megantic has “shocked us all.”
She said her thoughts and prayers are with the residents, and she hoped the community would be able to rebuild itself.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward wrote a letter to Quebec Premier Pauline Marois on behalf of all New Brunswick residents, offering their “deepest condolences.” He said the province was ready to help Lac-Megantic and Quebec, should they require it.
BMO Bank of Montreal announced Monday that it would donate $50,000 to the Red Cross for the disaster relief efforts.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Prime Minister Stephen Harper all visited Lac-Megantic, after leaving the Calgary Stampede early.
Trudeau toured the town Monday and said he was shocked by what he saw.
“I'm blown away, obviously by the terrible destruction ... but also by the strength and the courage of the people who have come from across the country to help out," he said.
Trudeau said it was too early to comment on what might have caused the derailment.
“Today and for the coming days, we will be occupied with residents, families who lost everything in certain cases, to help them and support them," he said.
Trudeau reminded Canadians on Twitter that they can help the disaster relief efforts by donating to the Red Cross.
Harper said Sunday that the area resembled a “war zone.” He, too, said it would be irresponsible to comment on the cause, as the investigation was still in its early stages.