Police have released the name of a victim in the train explosion that decimated the downtown core of Lac-Mégantic, Que.
A coroner's spokesperson said Thursday afternoon that Éliane Parenteau-Boulanger, 93, has been identified and her family notified of her death.
Police said that the number of confirmed deaths is now at 24, but the names of other victims were not released. Twenty-six other people are still missing, police said.
The last survivor of 11 siblings, Ms. Parenteau-Boulanger was 93 but remained in good health and still lived by herself in the house where she had started a family decades before, near the blast site. Her son, Michel Boulanger, told TVA that his mother had vowed in the past that she did not want to be sent to a nursing home and would rather die at home.
Authorities have opened up substantial parts of downtown Lac-Mégantic again, enabling residents to come within metres of the devastation from last weekend’s rail disaster for the first time.
Residents were allowed into an area right up to fences that ring the worst of the disaster scene after police began pulling down tape barricades that formed a perimeter of several blocks around the scene of the derailment at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. The fences – lined with black tarp to keep onlookers at bay – continue to ring the affected area, which is considered by police to be a crime scene.
Residents returned to their homes, some armed with disinfectant handed out at the temporary shelter to start the process of cleaning their houses.
Manon Grenier was in the kitchen of her mother's modest apartment late Thursday afternoon, having begun the cleanup of the house with disinfectants an hour earlier. She invited a reporter in to the residence, across the street from the crime scene fence on Rue Villeneuve, showing that she had pitched the entire contents of the fridge "except my beer" – six bottles of Coors Light. "Entering the house I felt 'thank God,' " she said, as she wiped out the inside of the freezer. "We're lucky. But a lot of people are in misery."
She said her 73-year-old mother was picking up cleaning supplies to aid in the house cleanup. The apartment smelled smokey but looked clean. Still to clean, however, were droplets of oil from the weekend fire on the home's outside siding.
Signs of life frozen in time from before this picturesque town was turned into a war zone marked the downtown, including advertisements for garage sales on lawns and zoning change notices. But a sign reminding all that things had changed forever was a two-page notice on many front doors, reminding them to be wary of secondary contamination, odors and other hazards.
After being blocked from the heart of their town, residents were allowed into the Ste-Agnès church overlooking the disaster scene for a silent visit for those who have lost someone.
The church bells pealed loudly as two busloads of residents staying at a temporary shelter quietly filed out of the church at 5:20 p.m., loading back onto buses with ashen looks on their faces as they glanced at the damage one block away.
Others milled about on the church steps afterward, surveying the scene before them. Beyond the fence, burned trees, destroyed buildings and destroyed tankers were readily visible.
“It’s difficult to look at this,” said Laval Fortier, 65, a local resident. “It's cruel, it's upsetting. There are no words to describe this.”
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha