The number of confirmed deaths due to the train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on Saturday, July 6, is still rising. With two more bodies found in the rubble, the death toll is now at 35. in order to do a more thorough search, two buildings, made unstable by the crash and resultant fireballs, will have to be demolished.
It was just after 1 a.m. on July 6 when a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Inc. train came barreling into Lac-Megantic. The 72-car train, with nobody at its controls, skipped the tracks and exploded into a series of massive fire balls. It had been transporting crude oil destined for New Brunswick.
The train, which had been left unattended, had been parked in the nearby town of Nantes, about 12 kilometers away. The engineer was staying at a hotel for the night.
The death toll will likely rise even further, as fifteen people are still missing and unaccounted for. In order to continue the search for victims of last weekend’s tragic train derailment, officials are getting set to demolish two unstable buildings which were damaged by the train and resultant fireballs.
On Sunday morning, Surete du Quebec Lt. Michel Brunet held a news conference to notify the residents in 6,000-person community of the planned demolitions so that they are not alarmed by the sight of buildings collapsing.
Brunet said the buildings are located close to the center of the derailment site in the town’s commercial area.
According to Brunet, the risk of the two buildings collapsing is too high to allow search crews to enter the sites:
We have to search these buildings, but we cannot do it right now. It’s too dangerous for everyone.”
It will be especially difficult for Architect Gunnar Skjaevestad, who had originally designed buildings and facades in the downtown core and toured the destruction, to see the buildings being torn down:
It’s a very devastating reaction to have to that because it’s so total.”
Skjaevestad added that rebuilding the area will give the town tremendous hope:
And I think it’s important from a moralistic and psychological view that the town be rebuilt as quickly as possible.”
No explosives will be used to demolish the two buildings. Instead, the demolitions will be conducted uaing a mechanical device.
According to Brunet:
A lot of searching has already been done around the (area). We need to go inside to see what’s in it, and we need to do that safely.”
The names of seven of the confirmed dead were released by the police late Saturday. They are Frederic Boutin, 19; Kathy Clusiault, 24; Elodie Turcotte, 18; Yannick Bouchard, 36; Karine Lafontaine, 35; Maxime Dubois, 27; and Melissa Roy, 29.
The coroner’s office, on Thursday, had confirmed that 93-year-old Eliane Parenteau, who lived alone, close to the tracks, also was a victim of the disaster.
Once the area around the two buildings is searched, police are expected to provide an updated death toll.
It’s been just over one week since the devastating train derailment occurred.
At Saint Agnes church, a bell in the village of Lac-Megantic rang 50 times for each person believed to have died. This was followed by a minute of silence and the release of a dozen white doves from the church steps.
Mourners held hands to form a long human chain, couples embraced and many cried quietly, all with their heads down.
The train had been parked uphill. It is believed that the train’s brakes either failed, or had not been set properly. The train gained speed and eventually jumped the tracks in the heart of town near a packed cafe bar.
As a result of the accident, there are likely to be changes made in Canadian railway regulations.
Also, debate is already occurring about the merits of sending crude oil by rail. Trains have been used more frequently because of capacity limits on pipelines, but this has made the possibility of disasters like the one at Lac-Megantic become terrifyingly real.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board and local police investigating the accident are focusing on whether the hand brakes had been set correctly.
With the death toll in Quebec due to the train explosion currently at 35, it is expected to rise even further once the two buildings are demolished and the area can be safely searched further.
Written by: Douglas Cobb