Transport Minister Lisa Raitt visited the site of the train derailment and explosions in Lac- Mégantic, Que., on Wednesday, and said she would meet with Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche.
MP Christian Paradis, who represents Mégantic-Maple, joined Raitt at the site, where she reiterated the federal government's commitment to helping with reconstruction, but without announcing any details.
On Monday, seven mayors from Quebec's Eastern Townships demanded a meeting with the transport minister. The cities and towns represented by the mayors are located along the rail line used by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, owner of the train at the centre of the fatal derailment.
"If they ask me to come, I will come," Raitt said.
She said she will meet with the mayor of Lac-Mégantic as well as the regional prefect.
Elected officials from the cities of Sutton, Magog, Sherbrooke, Farnham, Lac-Mégantic, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Cowansville have also asked for a working committee with experts and the Quebec federation of municipalities to examine the coexistence of cities and trains.
The regional politicians were careful to say that despite the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, railways will remain an essential part of their local economies.
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 and for the town to start to rebuild. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said last week she has been in touch with the federal government, though no formal aid has been committed.
Marois has pushed for Ottawa to contribute because railways are a federal responsibility.
The former labour minister, Raitt was appointed to the transport porfolio in the cabinet shuffle this week.
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Crews 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.
Lac-Mégantic fire Chief Denis Lauzon said firefighters are working short bursts in the still-cordoned-off area where the blasts caused the greatest amount of damage.
"As of right now, the problem is the vapours that come out of the land, because it is still filled with gasoline," he said.
"Benzene [a toxic component of crude oil] is a concern. That's why we have a detector."
A HAZMAT team is testing levels, he said, ready to pull workers out of the area if high levels are detected.
As of yesterday, 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.
On Wednesday, two more bodies were identified by the Quebec coroner's office.
- Karine Champagne, 36.
- Gaétan Lafontaine, 33.
In total, 11 people have been positively identified through the provincial forensic lab.
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.
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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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