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Police declare area a crime scene

Body count of 15 expected to rise as officials prepare for legal actions

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/7/2013 (1471 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Que. -- The official death toll in the Quebec train disaster has climbed to 15, with two more bodies pulled Tuesday from a scorched area police were calling a crime scene.

With about another 35 other people still missing, residents expect the grim news to continue.

The ruins of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., have been declared off limits by police pulling evidence from the disaster.


The ruins of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., have been declared off limits by police pulling evidence from the disaster.

Provincial police said they had 200 officers on the site performing a criminal investigation -- and because they were treating much of the downtown core as a crime scene, trespassers could be charged with obstructing justice.

"There is potential evidence there that could eventually lead to criminal charges being laid," said Insp. Michel Forget.

"I won't speculate on the elements we have recovered because they will be secret."

He said he doesn't believe terrorism is at play.

He also refused comment when asked whether the evidence related to any possible crimes was found at the scene of the derailment or further up the line.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Transportation Safety Board said it is performing its own investigation.

The TSB said Tuesday authorities were never alerted to the fact a runaway train was on its way to levelling part of the small Quebec town.

Rail dispatchers had no chance to intervene during the fateful 18-minute journey because they didn't know it was happening, TSB investigator Donald Ross told a news conference.

"There were no signals nor track circuits, so the rail-traffic controller had no -- and would have had no -- indication that there had been a runaway train," he said.

Such systems are in place on busier railways but not on secondary lines, said TSB manager Ed Belkaloul.

A clearer picture of the events leading up to the fatal derailment began to emerge Tuesday as board officials gave a bare-bones account of their investigation thus far.

But they stressed it's much too early to say who was responsible for the security of the train that rolled into Lac-Mégantic and exploded into flames.

"We want to know the answer to that question as well," Ross said.

"We need to do all of our interviews and talk to all of the people before we make sure we've got it right.

"It's very important to know exactly who did what. Who was there? What did they do? Until we've had a chance to interview everybody we need to talk to, we can't comment on that yet."

The finger-pointing has already begun, with untold financial stakes at play: There are already local rumours of potential lawsuits while various parties speculate about impending compensation.

The company that owns the train, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, and fire officials in the nearby town of Nantes have blamed each other as investigators search for causes in the tragedy that has ravaged the close-knit community about 250 kilometres east of Montreal.

The fire chief in Nantes has offered an assessment different from the railway's about who might have been to blame in the hours leading up to the tragedy.

Edward Burkhardt, the president and CEO of MMA's parent company, Rail World, Inc., has suggested the fire crew didn't do enough -- and even suggested the decision to shut off the locomotive to put out a fire earlier in the night might have disabled the brakes.

The fire crew, however, says it was simply following procedures set out by the railway itself.

Burkhardt is set to visit Lac-Mégantic this week and will likely face tough questions and a fair degree of anger from residents.

He told the CBC in an interview the company has already changed some of its procedures -- such as switching crews around Lac-Mégantic and its older rail infrastructure.

He also suggested the decision to staff trains with one-man crews -- and leaving them unattended during breaks -- might have to change.

"I think we followed normal industry practice, but the question is -- is that normal industry practice adequate in today's circumstances, particularly when you're handling trains of flammable materials like oil?" Burkhardt told the network.

"I think there is going to be a number of changes in the rail industry overall as a result of what occurred here and I hope that we'll be at the forefront."

When asked whether the one-person policy had been a good idea, Burkhardt replied: "Is this correct? I'd put a real question mark on that one right now... I can tell you on MMA, we're not leaving any of these trains unattended from now on."

It remains to be seen how the disaster might affect the ongoing political debates in Canada and the United States about energy transportation and pipelines.


-- The Canadian Press


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Updated on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 9:35 AM CDT: adds video

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