The small town of L'Épiphanie began the painful process of mourning the deaths of two workers whose bodies were recovered on Saturday after being killed in last week's landslide in a quarry near Montreal.
"We are experiencing relief, but also a great deal of sadness," said Denis Lévesque, the mayor of this community of 3,300 residents located north-east of Montreal. "This has been a difficult and stressful week for all of us here, especially for the families of the victims. We can now begin to grieve those whose lives were taken by this tragic accident. But this is a close-knit community. We'll pull through together."
The Quebec provincial police and provincial health and safety board specialists are investigating to determine whether the deaths were the result of negligence or natural causes.
Autopsies will be conducted this week on the bodies of Daniel Brisebois, 54, of L'Épiphanie and Marie-Claude Laporte, 43, of Bois-des-Filion, an off-island Montreal suburb. They were found submerged in clay near the trucks they were operating when the landslide occurred.
The workers had been thrown from their vehicles and hurled down the gravel pit during last Tuesday`s landslide. Four days of rescue efforts had been hampered by poor weather conditions and the threat of another landslide. On Saturday, the search teams were finally able to recover the bodies.
"The entire site had been squared off into several quadrangles and assigned to search teams," said Quebec provincial police spokesperson Benoît Richard. "The body of Mr. Brisebois was found twenty minutes after the digging began. The second body, of a woman, was found six hours later."
He added that the search operation had been a tedious and difficult task given the harsh weather, unstable terrain and the difficulty of getting heavy equipment to the bottom of the quarry. Cranes were used to lower digging equipment into the pit while helicopters brought in the search teams.
The only survivor, heavy-equipment operator Benoît Robert, was rescued by a police helicopter shortly after the landslide. He was able to give the search teams an eyewitness account of where his two workers were located when it hit.
Over the past few days, police interrogated the owners of Maskino quarry as well as other contractors working at the site. Research conducted by geologists and other specialists who have been examining the site since the landslide occurred will also play an important role in determining what happened, police said.
"This investigation has never stopped from the day the landslide occurred," Mr. Richard said. "It began as soon as our investigators arrived at the site. The on-site investigation is now complete."
Police said they will analyze the information and data while working in close co-operation with the health and safety board and other specialists before determining conclusively what happened.