LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec -- The first victim of a runaway oil train's explosive derailment in this town was identified yesterday, more than five days since the disaster that left a scorched scene so dangerous that it slowed the search for 50 people presumed dead.
Discovery of four more bodies brought the total found to 24. The first victim to be identified by the coroner's office was Eliane Parenteau, 93, who lived in the downtown disaster zone.
The devastated downtown remained dangerous for days after the crash as responders put out fires and struggled to keep the remaining oil tankers cool so they wouldn't explode. The hazardous conditions delayed the search for the missing -- and now for bodies.
Conditions had at least improved enough for nearly all the 2,000 residents forced to evacuate, a third of the population, to return home, Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said.
Provincial Premier Pauline Marois toured the traumatized town and sharply criticized the U.S. railway's chief for not responding in person more quickly to Canada's worst railway disaster in nearly 150 years. Marois renewed her criticism of Edward Burkhardt, chief executive of Chicago-based Rail World Inc.
Burkhardt arrived in town Wednesday with a police escort, to jeers from residents.
He has blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly before the unmanned train hurtled down a seven-mile incline, derailed and ignited. Burkhardt said the engineer had been suspended without pay. -- AP