Quebec town grapples with loss in train wreck aftermath

Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:30am EDT
 
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By Julie Gordon

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (Reuters) - Residents of the town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec were coming to grips on Thursday with the reality that 50 of their own were most likely dead in the aftermath of the worst railway disaster in North American in more than two decades.

Five days after a train hauling 72 cylinders of crude oil jumped the track and exploded into a wall of fire, provincial police said they had recovered 20 bodies, with another 30 people still missing and presumed dead, confirming the worst fears of a community that had all but given up hope.

"She's dead," said Jean-Guy Lapierre of his niece, holding a copy of a Quebec tabloid that had printed pictures of some of the town's missing young people on its front page. "She was just 28."

The crash and subsequent explosions rocked the eastern Canadian town of Lac-Megantic shortly after 1 a.m. (0500 GMT) on Saturday, leveling its historic downtown strip.

Numerous houses and businesses were burned to the ground, including the Musi-Cafe, a popular bar that was packed with people, eyewitnesses told Reuters.

On Wednesday, the head of the railway company said the engineer probably did not set enough handbrakes when he parked his train some eight miles west of town late on Friday, leading to the deadly accident. The official apologized to residents of the town of about 6,000.

The words of remorse came too late for many locals who remain angry at the company - Montreal Maine and Atlantic - and accuse chairman Ed Burkhardt of shirking responsibility for the accident.

"They still aren't taking the blame," said Christiane, a woman who lived near the blast site and declined to give her last name. "First it's the firemen, now the engineer, who will they blame tomorrow?"   Continued...

 
A woman is overcome with emotion as she sits outside the school sheltering evacuees in Lac-Megantic, Quebec July 10, 2013. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi