EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 9, 2013

Quebec train derailment death toll rises to 13


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (AP) — Traumatized survivors of an oil train derailment that wiped out the heart of a small town braced for more bad news as inspectors were finally cleared to enter the charred site and look for remains late yesterday, more than two days after the disaster that killed at least 13 people. A total of 50 were missing and the death toll was sure to rise.

Quebec provincial police Sgt. Benoit Richard said eight more bodies had been found in the wreckage after firefighters doused the flames and cooled down some of the oil tankers that were in danger of exploding. Five bodies were found over the weekend, and police would not say where the newly discovered ones were, for fear of upsetting families.

All but one of the train’s 73 tanker cars were carrying oil when they came loose early Saturday, sped downhill nearly seven miles into the town of Lac-Megantic, near the Maine border, and derailed. At least five of the cars exploded.

The blasts destroyed about 30 buildings, including a public library and a popular bar that was filled with revelers, and forced about a third of the town’s 6000 residents out of their homes.

Sophie L’Heureux, a manager at the bar, was woken up at home by the explosion. She said she believed there were about 50 people in the bar, including many close friends.

“I’m in survival mode right now. My priority is to try sleep if I can, eat if I can,” she said. “For the rest, it’s one minute, one day at a time.”

The derailment raised questions about the safety of Canada’s growing practice of transporting oil by train, and was sure to bolster arguments that a proposed oil pipeline running from Canada across the U.S. — one that Canadian officials badly want — would be safer.

Raymond Lafontaine, who believed he lost three members of his family, including his son, said he was angry with what appeared to be lack of safety regulations.

“We always wait until there’s a big accident to change things,” said Raymond Lafontaine, who had three missing relatives. “Well, today we’ve had a big accident, it’s one of the biggest ever in Canada.”

The fires sparked by the exploding tanks burned for two days, impeding investigators from reaching some of the “hot spots,” including the area near the destroyed Musi-Cafe.

The area remained part of a criminal investigation and investigators were exploring all options, including the possibility that someone intentionally tampered with the train, Richard said.