Death toll climbs to 13 in Lac-Megantic; dozens remain missing
Published Monday, July 8, 2013 6:54AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 8, 2013 9:03PM EDT
Eight more bodies have been found in the rubble of Lac-Megantic, bringing the death toll to 13 following a deadly train derailment.
Officials confirmed the increased death toll Monday afternoon.
In addition to the bodies, more than 30 people are missing and the number of confirmed deaths may continue to rise as authorities get their first real look at the 40 buildings destroyed since Saturday's train crash and fire after extinguishing the flames.
Police have begun to widen their search for victims, with fire investigators finally gaining access to "hot spots" Monday afternoon following the powerful explosion.
The coroner's office is asking family members of those missing to provide DNA samples to help identify victims. The bodies are being examined in Montreal.
The train was carrying dozens of tanker cars full of crude oil, and the fire was very difficult to extinguish.
Richard said that with the fire out, authorities would be able to fully examine the scene -- as long as it was safe.
About 40 buildings were destroyed in the town's downtown, including Le Musi-Cafe bar where revellers were enjoying themselves on a typical weekend night.
Police had been unable to get to the popular bar, with the area considered too dangerous to enter until Monday.
Even with the fires out, crews are keeping a steady stream of water aimed at several intact oil tank car in the centre of town out of fears the heat could lead to another fire.
Even without full access the Transportation Safety Board has been able to collect the two 'black boxes' from the locomotive and from another car.
"We had investigators on scene there and they've gone through and documented all of the locomotive interior positions, the throttle positions, all the things of interest to us. So that's all been documented and were still working and analyzing all that stuff," said Donald Ross of the TSB.
The company which owned the runaway train, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, issued a statement Sunday saying they had not had the chance to make their own investigation, but said it was possible that the train's braking system had malfunctioned.
The company's president, Edward Burkhardt is planning to visit Lac-Megantic later in the week.
Townspeople returning home
More than 1,500 evacuees will begin to return to their homes Tuesday following a train derailment that started a deadly inferno in Lac-Megantic.
Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche is asking residents to be patient as she and city officials announced Monday afternoon that a plan will be put in place Tuesday morning for a secure and orderly reintegration in two neighbourhoods affected by the devastating blaze. No official timeline has been put in place yet.
Close to 2,000 people in the town of 6,000 had to abandon their homes when the fire began, and some were allowed to return home Sunday evening -- nearly 48 hours after the explosion that shattered the core of the town at 1:15 Saturday morning.
Jean-Pierre Bedard was one of those able to go home after spending a night at a shelter.
"It felt pretty good to be able to sleep at my place," said Bedard.
"I could have been one of those that was living over there. I know quite a few people who live downtown who were sleeping that night so some of those people I'll never see again."
Those who live downwind of the area where the fire raged, the Fatima neighbourhood, may have to wait a little longer to go home.
On Monday morning Christine Savard of the public security and Mayor Roy-Laroche asked citizens to continue to have patience and, above all, be careful before going home and to respect orders given by police or the public safety ministry.
"The situation is getting better," said Roy-Laroche.
The mayor announced that daycares and pharmacies will open on Monday in an attempt to restore a sense of normalcy.
The command centre that had been operating out of a car dealership for the weekend is moving, and citizens who need help of any kind are being told to go to Ecole Sacre Coeur or call 819-583-2441.
Water being inspected
Residents will have to boil water because crude oil leaked into the Chaudiere river, and the explosion damaged a water main.
"All our water reservoirs are filling and so that is improving. We are asking all citizens to conserve drinking water," said Roy-Laroche.
Officials say the leak has been contained but three nearby municipalities are on a drinking water advisory while the spill is cleaned up.
"Today we will make sure the follow up is done, the laboratory tests are done," Christian Blanchette of the Environment Ministry.
Eventually today we will be able to give you the first count of the contaminated water that was pumped out, it's a considerable amount that did not go into the river."
Identification will take a long time
Genevieve Guilbault of the coroner's office said the five bodies could not be examined sufficiently in Lac Megantic.
Two bodies have already been taken to Montreal, and the three other bodies would be taken soon to undergo DNA testing.
"Identification will not be immediate. It will be a long and difficult process," said Guilbault.
"We know it's very hard for families, that is why we are taking such careful steps to avoid any mistakes."
Condolences, offers of help pour in
As news of the disaster spread, condolences began to pour in for the devastated community.
Queen Elizabeth II 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.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Prime Minister Stephen Harper all left Calgary -- where they were attending Stampede festivities -- to visit Lac-Megantic.
Trudeau reminded Canadians on Twitter that they can help the disaster relief efforts by donating to the Red Cross.
BMO Bank of Montreal announced Monday that it would donate $50,000 to the Red Cross for the disaster relief efforts.
With files from CTVNews.ca