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'Everyone's devastated': Friends say neuroscientist, 31, missing in Old Montreal fire

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A 31-year-old neuroscientist who was visiting Montreal for a conference is among the people missing after a massive fire in Old Montreal last week, according to friends and family.

Friends of An Wu say she was staying at the heritage building on Place d'Youville after coming to Montreal to attend the Computational and Systems Neuroscience (COSYNE) 2023 event.

"We're definitely all very devastated," said Jill Zhu, Wu's friend. "Part of us still thinks she might still be out there somehow."

The fire has left one person dead and nine injured, while six others are missing.

A woman's body was pulled from the rubble on Sunday, a major effort that involved aerial surveillance and the fire department's technical rescue unit.

"Using drones and using a bucket truck, our police officers and firemen were able to have a look at the scene from high ground, and they were able to locate a victim. Following that, they prepared a plan to safely extricate the victim from the rubble," said Montreal Police Insp. David Shane.

The victim's identity has not yet been confirmed.

"These people who are still missing are probably in the rubble, unfortunately," said Shane.

Investigators survey the scene following a fire in Old Montreal, Sunday, March 19, 2023, that gutted a heritage building. Several people are still unaccounted for. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

SLOW PROCESS, PAINFUL WAIT

Over the weekend, engineers found the building was structurally unsafe, and the top two floors needed to be torn down.

"We will begin the work of dismantling the second and third-floor structures today. We also plan to continue searching through the rubble in an attempt to locate and extricate additional victims," said Fire Department Division Chief Martin Guilbault.

Crews are working to dismantle the building "stone by stone" to preserve the building's heritage.

Police say the investigation at the site could take at least another week to complete.

It's an agonizing wait for Yukun Zeng, who flew into Montreal on Monday looking for answers about his friend.

"It's heartbreaking...heartbreaking. I'm still trying to understand what is going on,"he said.

In China, Wu's parents are desperate for closure.

Speaking through a translator, Wu's aunt, Suzhen Wu, told CTV News they are planning to fly to Montreal next week but have not been able to secure visas.

Wu says the family is struggling through sleepless nights and waiting for a miracle.

An Wu is believed to be a victim in the fire that broke out in Old Montreal on March 16, 2023. (Source: Jill Zhu)

A LIFE FULL OF PROMISE

Friends describe An Wu as a smart and promising neuroscientist. 

"She's very well known in the field," said her friend Shijia Liu, adding Wu's disappearance has sent shockwaves through her professional community.

Friends say Wu graduated college when she was 18 and got her Ph.D. from the University of Miami before finding work at the University of California San Diego.

"She's gone. She's missing. And everyone's devastated," said Liu. 

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