Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Quebec train blast victim named

The train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada (AP)

The first victim of a runaway oil train's explosive derailment in a Quebec town has been identified, more than five days after the disaster.

The incident left behind a scorched scene so dangerous that it has slowed the search for 50 people presumed dead.

Quebec's premier toured the town and sharply criticised the US railways chief for not responding in person more quickly to Canada's worst railway disaster in nearly 150 years. Police said four more bodies had been found, bringing the total found to 24.

The first victim to be identified by the coroner's office was 93-year-old Eliane Parenteau, who lived in the disaster zone in downtown Lac-Megantic. Those who knew her described her as being active for her age.

The devastated downtown area remained dangerous for days after the crash as emergency crews put out fires and struggled to keep the remaining oil tankers cool so they would not explode. The hazardous conditions delayed the search for the missing - and now for bodies.

Officials also have warned that identifications would be made more difficult by the incinerated scene. Conditions have at least improved enough for nearly all the 2,000 residents forced to evacuate after the crash - a third of the population - to return home, the town's mayor said.

Quebec premier Pauline Marois arrived in the town and renewed her criticism of Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of US-based Rail World, which owns the runaway train. "The leader of this company should have been there from the beginning," she said at a news conference.

Mr Burkhardt arrived in the town for the first time on Wednesday with a police escort, facing jeers from residents. He has said he delayed his visit to deal with the crisis from his Chicago office, saying he was better able to communicate from there.

"I understand the extreme anger," he said. "We owe an abject apology to the people in this town."

He has blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly before the unmanned train hurtled down a seven-mile incline, derailed and ignited. Mr Burkhardt said the engineer had been suspended without pay and was under "police control".

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