The head of the company whose runaway train exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, said Wednesday firefighters may have contributed to the deadly accident.
Edward Burkhardt — chairman of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway and president of its parent company Rail World Inc., based in Chicago — received an angry greeting from members of the public Wednesday when he arrived in Lac-Megantic, five days after an MMA freight train hauling 72 tanker cars filled with shale oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded.
Police said Wednesday the remains of 20 victims had been recovered and another 30 people were still missing, The (Montreal) Gazette reported. Only one set of remains had been officially identified and that person’s name had not yet been released, the newspaper said.
At least 30 buildings were destroyed and 2,000 people — about one-third of the town’s population — have been displaced.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said the province will provide $60 million to help replace destroyed homes, CTV reported.
Marois said the railroad’s response to the disaster had demonstrated a completely deplorable attitude from the company. Police said Tuesday the matter is being handled as a criminal investigation.
Police escorted Burkhardt through the area Wednesday, as angry residents jeered and heckled him, CTV said.
“I feel absolutely awful. I am devastated by what’s happened,” Burkhardt said.
He told reporters the disaster may have had its origin in an earlier fire Friday night in Nantes, about 8 miles from Lac-Megantic, where the engineer had parked the train for the night.
Nantes firefighters put out the fire as the engineer slept in a hotel, Burkhardt told reporters. The railway official has claimed the firefighters turned off the locomotive’s engine, which could have caused the train’s air brakes to fail. CTV said firefighters have disputed his claim.
“The firemen should have roused the locomotive engineer who was in his hotel and taken him to the scene with them,” Burkhardt said. “But it’s easy to say what should have happened. We’re dealing with what happened.”
He said his company was not accepting responsibility for the disaster while it is under investigation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
I think we had quite a reasonable safety record until the other day when we blew it all, he said.
Citing Canadian Transportation Safety Board data, the CBC said MMA has had 129 accidents since 2003, including 77 derailments.