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50 People Believed Dead In Quebec Train Explosion


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. Canadian police say they found five more bodies in the rubble of the small village in Quebec devastated by a train explosion on Saturday. That brings the confirmed death toll to 20. And officials say the 30 people still missing are now presumed dead. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann is on the scene. He joins us now on the line.

And, Brian, was this a surprise, the fact that the death toll jumped from 15 to roughly 50 people?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yeah. People I've been speaking to here today, Audie - first responders and local families - really did expect the worst. I spoke this afternoon with Maude Faucher, whose sister, Mary Noelle, has been missing since Saturday. And she told me that she just really had no hope that her sister was still alive. But, you know, this confirmation is still a terrible blow. First responders did meet today with members from all 50 of these families, offering them counseling and what support they can.

CORNISH: Now, the head of Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railways, Ed Burkhardt, actually visited the village for the first time today since the disaster. How was he greeted?

MANN: Yeah, it wasn't pretty. It was a lot of real anger and rage here. He gave a brief press conference, said that the engineer who last worked on this train has been suspended. But Burkhardt was met by protesters who shouted profanity, accused his company of negligence in the disaster. A lot of people here say the company should've had a bigger visible presence since Saturday's explosion.

CORNISH: Now, is there any more word on what might have caused this train - with cars full of flammable cargo - to slip free and roll down into the downtown of the village?

MANN: It's really not clear yet. This is now a criminal investigation, and Quebec police aren't giving a lot of details about what they found so far. They're describing the devastated downtown area as an enormous crime scene and keeping most of it off limits. There's an enormous part of the community that's now described as a red zone. And no one's been allowed to go in there. The railroad has suggested, say that there might not have been enough handbrakes set on the train by the engineer when it was left on Saturday. And it's just not clear whether that was a key factor allowing this train to roll free as it did.

CORNISH: Now, you've described rage being directed toward Ed Burkhardt, the head of the railroad. But generally, what is the mood in the town?

MANN: I've heard a lot of deep, deep sorrow today. It's a small town and people are closely connected. Also, a lot of bitter anger. There's been a lot of finger-pointing here in Quebec between the different political parties, between the provincial and federal governments, and a lot of questions being raised about the safety precautions that govern these big industrial trains that run right through the heart of so many towns and villages. The flags are flying at half-staff here today. And Quebec's provincial premier, Pauline Marois, did announce this morning that $60 million are going to go to help Lac-Megantic rebuild, $25 million available immediately just to help these people who are living still in shelters and hotels.

CORNISH: That's Brian Mann with North Country Public Radio in Quebec. Brian, thank you.

MANN: Thank you.

CORNISH: To recap, the death toll has risen from last weekend's train crash and explosion in Quebec. The official death toll now stands at 20. In addition, another 30 people who remain missing are now presumed dead. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.