Shell-shocked residents eager to return home in Quebec town

Tue Jul 9, 2013 12:20am EDT
 
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By Julie Gordon and Richard Valdmanis

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (Reuters) - Three days after a runaway train derailed and exploded in the downtown core of Lac-Megantic, many residents of the Quebec tourist town are still waiting for answers about missing loved ones, while others are just impatient to return home.

With the fires now out and the authorities finally able to access the epicenter of the blasts, the death toll is expected to climb and many of the town's evacuated residents will finally be allowed back to assess the damage.

For the families of the dead and missing - around 50 people altogether - the recovery efforts will start to bring some closure, though it may still take weeks or even months before all are identified.

"They know their loved ones were there, on the site. Most of them are now waiting for confirmation - because that makes it official," said Steve Lemay, the parish priest of Lac-Megantic, who has been meeting with affected families. "It's clear that they are not waiting for the missing to return."

Quebec police said late on Monday that they had so far recovered 13 bodies from the blackened rubble of what was once the historic downtown strip.

The coroner's office asked relatives of the missing to bring in brushes, combs and razors so specialists could extract DNA samples from strands of hair.

By Monday evening, the emergency crews had finally reached the Musi-Cafe, a downtown bar near the epicenter of the blast. A band was performing that night and the building was packed with people, eyewitnesses told Reuters.

"I don't know how many friends I lost that night," said Jean-Sebastien Jacques, a 24-year-old amateur mixed martial arts fighter who was walking toward the Musi-Cafe at the time of the accident. "We have looked at the shelter and around town, but that bar was full when the train hit."   Continued...

 
A man console his friend at the Polyvanlente Montignac, the school sheltering the people who were forced to leave their houses after the explosion, in Lac Megantic, July 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger