NEWS

Lac-Megantic Vigils Held For Victims Of Train Disaster

07/12/2013 04:10 EDT | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 EDT
LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. - The town that was torn apart by fireballs paused to light candles in a poignant remembrance of its dead late Friday.

Clusters of residents of Lac-Megantic, some pushing children in strollers, appeared before dusk to stand or sit on the steps of the local church.

Candles flickered in their hands in the warm night air as people whispered among themselves. Some hugged. Others were quiet.

"We can feel the love," said Cynthia Jacques.

A small group of Quebec provincial police officers, whose force has been combing the site of last Saturday's catastrophic train derailment for bodies as well as evidence, stood watch from the sidelines.

So far 28 people have been confirmed dead and more than 20 are still missing.

The vigil had been cancelled earlier in the day. Town officials said the community is still under a state of emergency. They said people could perhaps instead pay tribute by lighting a candle at home.

But as darkness fell, they came out instead.

About 50 people also walked solemnly through the streets of Old Montreal with candles, stopping in front of Notre-Dame Basilica where they set up a small shrine as a nearby busker with a violin played "My Heart Will Go On."

A visibly moved Richard Lafontaine said he had to show support to the people in Lac-Megantic.

"Solidarity," he said. "We're participating in a movement of solidarity for the region and especially the town."

Vigils were held in other parts of Quebec including Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Trois-Rivieres and Gatineau and in some Canadian cities including Winnipeg.

Earlier in the day in Lac-Megantic, the federal Transportation Safety Board shared details of its upcoming multi-month investigation into what it describes as possibly the worst train disaster in Canadian history.

TSB chair Wendy Tadros says the investigation into the Lac-Megantic tragedy will take many months — and perhaps longer.

She says 20 people are collecting evidence on-site, and 10 more people are working on the case in Ottawa.

"This may well be the most devastating rail accident in Canadian history," she told a news conference Friday in the town, where she offered her condolences to residents.

"This will be an incredibly complex investigation.

"It will take months — or more."

Investigators plan to produce a 3D model through laser scanning of images currently being collected at the site of the accident.

Four more bodies were found Friday, bringing the total of discovered bodies to 28. Eight of the victims have been officially identified. The Quebec coroner's office says the names of those people will be released after families have been notified.

Athough the TSB described it Lac-Megantic as possibly the worst train disaster in Canadian history, there were some pre-Confederation train disasters where more people died.

In 1864, 99 were killed in the St-Hilaire, Que., rail disaster when a train plunged into the Richelieu River. In 1854, 52 people were killed in a Baptiste Creek, Ont., crash, in what was the worst rail disaster in North America at the time.

The TSB says investigators will consider the slope of the track around Lac-Megantic; the weight of the train; and the safety practices of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway.

"In the end we will tell Canadians what happened, why it happened, and what needs to be done to ensure it will never happen again," Tadros said.

"But today we are a long way from there."

The TSB will also publish statistics online, starting soon, on the safety records from different rail companies because of public demand.

It says it will also immediately share information publicly if, over the course of its investigation, it learns anything that compromises public safety.

It says there will be no train traffic in the area as long as investigations are underway — then what happens afterward is up to the federal Transport department.

The Quebec government has also left open the possibility of a public inquiry.

(With files from Nelson Wyatt, Alexander Panetta and Jerome Roy in Montreal, and Patrice Bergeron and Paola Loriggio in Lac-Megantic)

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