Lac Megantic: Police say 24 bodies have now been found after the fiery weekend derailment of an oil train in a Quebec town.
Authorities have said everyone missing in early Saturday`s disaster is presumed dead, meaning 50 were killed in Canada`s worst railway disaster in nearly 150 years.
The intensity of the fire has slowed identification of the dead. The first to be identified by the coroner`s office is 93-year-old Eliane Parenteau.
Crews worked yesterday to find the burned remains of the 50 people presumed dead in Saturday`s catastrophic oil train derailment, as Quebec Premier Pauline Marois toured the traumatised town and took the American railway`s chief to task for not visiting sooner.
Marois arrived in Lac-Megantic hours after police said they had recovered 5 more bodies, raising the official body count to 20. Workers searched through the epicenter of the explosions for the remaining 30.
Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of US-based Rail World Inc., which owns the runaway train, was also in town. He arrived Wednesday with a police escort and faced jeers from residents.
Marois had earlier faulted Burkhardt for what she said was a slow response, and called the company`s chief behavior "deplorable" and "unacceptable." She renewed some of the criticism yesterday.
"I already commented on his behavior and the behavior of his company yesterday. The leader of this company should have been there from the beginning," Marois said at a news conference.
Burkhardt said he had delayed his visit in order to deal with the crisis from his office in Chicago, saying he was better able to communicate from there with insurers and officials in different places. He was planning to meet with residents and the mayor yesterday.
"I understand the extreme anger," he said. "We owe an abject apology to the people in this town."
Burkhardt has blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly before the unmanned train hurtled down an 11-kilometer incline, derailed and ignited in the center of Lac-Megantic early Saturday. All but one of its 73 cars was carrying oil, and at least five exploded.
Burkhardt said the train`s engineer had been suspended without pay and was under "police control."
Investigators also had spoken with Burkhardt during his visit, said a police official, Sgt. Benoit Richard. He did not elaborate.
Until Wednesday, the railway company had defended its employees` actions, but that changed abruptly as Burkhardt singled out the engineer.
"We think he applied some hand brakes, but the question is, did he apply enough of them?" Burkhardt said. "He said he applied 11 hand brakes. We think that`s not true. Initially we believed him, but now we don`t."
Burkhardt did not name the engineer, though the company had previously identified the employee as Tom Harding of Quebec. Harding has not spoken publicly since the crash.