Quebec premier takes rail chief to task

Firefighters water smoldering rubble July 7 in Lac Megantic, Quebec, after a runaway train derailed causing a fiery explosion. Officials are still searching for 30 people missing after the crash.

Firefighters water smoldering rubble July 7 in Lac Megantic, Quebec, after a runaway train derailed causing a fiery explosion. Officials are still searching for 30 people missing after the crash. Photo by The Associated Press.

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (AP) — Crews worked Thursday to find the burned remains of the 50 people presumed dead in Saturday’s catastrophic oil train derailment, as Quebec Premier Pauline Marois toured the traumatized town and took the American railway’s chief to task for not visiting sooner.

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Raymond Lafontaine, who lost his son and two daughters-in-law, receives a hug Thursday from Quebec Premier Pauline Marois during her visit to Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Marois arrived in Lac-Megantic hours after police said they had recovered 5 more bodies, raising the official body count to 20. Workers searched through the epicenter of the explosions for the remaining 30.

Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of U.S.-based Rail World Inc., which owns the runaway train, was also in town. He arrived Wednesday with a police escort and faced jeers from residents.

Marois had earlier faulted Burkhardt for what she said was a slow response, and called the company’s behavior “deplorable” and “unacceptable.” She renewed some of the criticism Thursday.

“I already commented on his behavior and the behavior of his company yesterday. The leader of this company should have been there from the beginning,” Marois said at a news conference.

Burkhardt said he had delayed his visit in order to deal with the crisis from his office in Chicago, saying he was better able to communicate from there with insurers and officials in different places. He was planning to meet with residents and the mayor Thursday.

“I understand the extreme anger,” he said. “We owe an abject apology to the people in this town.”

Burkhardt has blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly before the unmanned train hurtled down a seven-mile incline, derailed and ignited in the center of Lac-Megantic early Saturday. All but one of its 73 cars was carrying oil, and at least five exploded.

Burkhardt said the train’s engineer had been suspended without pay and was under “police control.”

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