Investigators have confirmed the identities of five more victims of the Lac-Mégantic, Que., train disaster, bringing to 17 the number of people whose remains have been identified.
Quebec provincial police Insp. Michel Forget said on Wednesday that crews have finished searching between 70 and 75 per cent of the disaster site.
As of Tuesday, 38 bodies had been recovered from the site, where a portion of a 72-car train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the core of the town on July 6. Twelve people remain unaccounted for and are presumed dead.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt visited the site of the train derailment and explosions in Lac- Mégantic, Que., on Wednesday, a day after seven mayors from Quebec's Eastern Townships demanded a meeting with her.
- Raitt promises to help Lac-Megantic with reconstruction
"If they ask me to come, I will come," Raitt said.
She said she will meet with the Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche, as well as the regional prefect.
On Wednesday, Roy-Laroche said she was "impatiently" awaiting her meeting with the transport minister.
She said she hopes to discuss the possibility of moving the railway away from the town's centre.
The province has pledged $60 million in immediate and short-term funds for those who were displaced or lost their homes and businesses in the disaster.
As of Wednesday, 1,450 cheques of $1,000 from the provincial government had been distibuted.
The Red Cross announced on Twitter that it had raised over $5.6 million so far.
- Railway involved in Lac-Mégantic disaster lays off 19
As the town works to return to a sense of normalcy, Roy-Laroche reminded the public that there is more to the Lac-Mégantic region than its recent tragedy.
"You can visit Lac-Mégantic and see the [derailment zone] wall, but I invite you to also visit the entire region," she said.
Roy-Laroche invited summer tourists to enjoy the beaches, golf courses and Mont-Mégantic National Park.
Cleaning up the river
More than a week after the derailment, crude oil leaking from the explosions has pooled along the shoreline of the nearby Chaudière River.
Environmental teams will assess the extent of the spill, which could take years to clean up.
Crews have been working to prevent it from seeping into the water table and hurting local widlife and vegetation.
The connection between the railway and infrastructure in Lac-Mégantic has become a hot topic since the explosion.
Elected officials from Sutton, Magog, Sherbrooke, Farnham, Lac-Mégantic, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Cowansville called for increased rail safety standards on Tuesday.
However, the officials were also careful to point out that railways will remain an important part of their economies in the future.
A group of dignitaries from Maine visited Lac-Mégantic on Wednesday to show their support for the community.
The train that derailed on Saturday was set to travel east through Maine.
"We all have a kind of responsiblity here," said Senator Tom Saviello for Franklin County, Maine.
Several of the Maine municipalities have plans to collaborate with the town of Lac-Mégantic as they deal with the interruption in railway traffic — an important resource for all of their local economies.
Disaster workers battle the heat
Disaster workers are taking 15-minute shifts inside Lac-Mégantic's red zone, battling heat and toxic conditions at the site of the train explosions.
Firefighters are working short bursts in the still-cordoned-off area where the blasts caused the greatest amount of damage.
"We're working in a no-man's land," said Denis Lauzon, Lac-Mégantic fire chief.
"We go slowly but surely and safety is a factor for everybody," Lauzon said.
Rising vapours coming from the oil-soaked ground are a concern for the crews. Lauzon said benzene, a toxic component of crude oil, poses a risk.
A HAZMAT team is testing levels, he said, ready to pull workers out of the area if high levels are detected.
Challenging task of removing tankers
Debris remains scattered across a large portion of the closed off area of Lac-Mégantic and crews are working to clear it with heavy machinery.
A team of experts brought in from the U.S. is removing the tanks, ensuring they're empty and then dismantling them for removal.
"It's all new for us," Lauzon said. "We're still working in no man's land – the unknown of which cars [are] filled with gas and if the structure is still good to be able to move them. So we go slowly, but surely, and safety is a factor for everybody."
The zone has been declared a crime scene, and police are working in an area that has been deemed environmentally safe, he said.
- TIMELINE: Lac-Mégantic rail disaster
Cooling off areas with ventilating mist are available for workers in the zone to rest.
Sûreté du Québec Lt. Daniel Campagna, who is responsible for the provincial police in the region that includes Lac-Mégantic, thanked the American and Quebec emergency workers who came to the region to help.
"For years now, we've had very close ties with various agencies including Maine emergency services," he said. "I would like to publicly thank them for their effort and for their contribution."
He also thanked the spouses of the workers and all the emergency personnel who cancelled their vacations to help.
He said the situation is particularly trying for emergency workers from the region.
"In this area, everybody knows everybody and the police officers know the people," he said. "It's not easy for you to enter that red zone. Definitely not easy because we still remember what it was like before this happened."
"I am from here. My career has been here. . . It has been very hard for me to pass that scene. It's also hard for me to see schools filled with police officers."
A high heat and humidity warning remains in place in all of southwestern Quebec as the temperatures climbed up to 32 with the humidex.
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