20 Confirmed Dead in Quebec Train Disaster
Police in Canada said on Wednesday that five more bodies have been found in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic, bringing the toll up to 20 confirmed dead, after a train derailment that set off a series of explosions in the town last Friday.
The number of people unaccounted for, which includes the recovered bodies, stands at about 50, according to CBC News.
Police said one of the bodies has been identified and the family has been notified. That person's name has not yet been released to the public.
Unofficial lists of people unaccounted for have been published on social media, but no official list has been released, reported the CBC.
The engineer in charge of the train that derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic is "under police control," according to the head of the rail company.
At an impromptu news conference on Wednesday, Ed Burkhardt, the president of Rail World Inc., remained unflappable as he addressed a flurry of reporters who crowded around him.
Rail World Inc. is the parent company of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), which owns the train that derailed and set off a series of fatal explosions.
Burkhardt said the engineer has been suspended without pay in the wake of the police investigation. He said he believes police have discussed prosecuting the engineer.
"I don't think he'll be back working with us," he told reporters shortly after he arrived in the town on Wednesday, according to CBC.
“It was our employee that was responsible for setting the brakes on the train … That employee is under investigation and is not working.”
The train was parked by the engineer late Friday night, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada which is investigating the incident.
The engineer then left the train and went to sleep at a nearby hotel. A short time later, a fire was reported on the train and another railway employee was brought in, according to the TSB. After firefighters and the rail worker had left the scene, the train started to roll downhill, derailed and exploded in the center of Lac-Mégantic.
Burkhardt said the company had originally trusted their employee when he told them he had applied all 11 hand brakes. However, he said he now has his doubts about the engineer's story.
“We think that he applied some handbrakes, the problem is that he didn’t apply enough of them,” he said.
At least 30 buildings were levelled by blasts in the town's core, reported the CBC. The province has offered the town funds to cover the loss in property tax from those businesses and more assistance to business owners to help with relocation and paying employees.
The federal government reiterated its support on Wednesday, saying it would “act swiftly and efficiently to ensure help is delivered” once it receives an evaluation of the services needed from the province.
The incident forced some 2,000 people, or roughly a third of the town's population, to leave their homes and seek shelter in local schools or with friends and family. Most of those people were able to return home on Tuesday.
With parts of the town still considered dangerous — and part of it still a crime scene — emergency officials could not say when the remainder of the evacuees, about 800 people, would be permitted home.