The bereaved and homeless of Lac-Mégantic are confronting harsh realities as they begin the second week of life after the train wreck, with official identification of the dead accelerating and the shelter that has served as the heart of the community since the disaster shutting down.
The Quebec coroner has officially identified the remains of eight people among the 35 bodies emergency crews have recovered since a runaway train destroyed downtown Lac-Mégantic in the early hours of July 6. Rescue workers toiling in sweltering conditions believe they are still looking for 15 bodies. Three rescuers were taken to hospital to be treated for exhaustion on Sunday.
Among the seven names added to the official list of the dead on Saturday was Maxime Dubois, a 27-year-old man whose mother was left to announce birth of his daughter, Anais, within days of his death. The child was born Wednesday to Mr. Dubois’s partner, Joannie Proteau.
“Maxime can’t be with us, but he will watch over his two loves and he will continue to live through his little princess,” France Lessard wrote on her Facebook page. She described the birth as bringing “a wave of energy” to a suffering family.
Many families have already begun grieving, but Éric Bouchard said he was relieved to officially learn the body of his brother, Yannick Bouchard, 36, was found. “The anxiety of waiting is finally over. He was found and identified,” Mr. Bouchard said. “I can finally cry for my brother.”
The other victims identified on the weekend were: Kathy Clusiault, 24; Élodie Turcotte, 18; Karine Lafontaine, 35; Mélissa Roy, 29; and Frédéric Boutin, 19.
Twenty-one residents who were staying at the Polyvalente Montignac high school were moving Sunday night to hotels and mobile homes. Another 150 residents who have been living with relatives and friends were also eligible to be relocated. By Sunday night, a high school that was the bustling, displaced heart of a broken town had only a handful of people milling about.
Walking from the Polyvalente Montignac, Estelle Rousseau was overjoyed for the 21 people being moved out of the high school’s gym. “That isn’t a way to live,” said Ms. Rousseau, who spent an evening in the makeshift shelter. “I wanted to grab my blanket and sleep in the grass outside.”
Although there will be no more residents living at the high school, the Red Cross will continue to serve three meals a day and provide all the services it has been providing over the past week.
“We’re trying to find what’s best for each evacuee with the obvious objective of giving them enough privacy and comfort as possible,” said Red Cross spokesperson Denis Desilets. Since many of the evacuees will not be able to return home for a long time, the Red Cross will provide better, long-term accommodations such as apartments and houses, according to Mr. Desilets.
Approximately 75 Red Cross volunteers have been working at the Polyvalente every day and will continue to do so as the high school will provide necessary services including food and psychological support.
The Quebec government will start providing $1,000 cheques on Monday morning to families evacuated after last week’s disaster. Officials expect it will take three days to distribute the money. Residents who have lost their homes will have access to extra funds, with Quebec’s Public Safety Ministry pledging $20 daily per family member.
On Sunday, recovery workers at the centre of the train crash were examining the wreckage of the Musi-Café bar, where many of the victims died. The bar sat just 10 metres from the tracks where 73 cars of crude oil derailed and exploded just after 1 a.m. early on a Saturday morning. Heavy equipment knocked down a few of the remaining, unstable walls still standing in the area.
Sûreté du Québec Inspector Michel Forget described workers “going through a two-storey building, brick-by-brick, in addition to dealing with all of the liquid and intense heat and this was a popular gathering place.”
“You have to understand that officers are mothers and fathers before police,” Insp. Forget said.