Canada mourns 50 victims of Quebec train accident

Updated: 2013-07-15 09:41

(Agencies/China Daily)

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A week after the heart of the Quebec village of Lac-Megantic was devastated in one of the worst train accidents in Canadian history, the St. Agnes church bell rang 50 times on Saturday, once for each person believed to have died.

There was an interval of eight seconds between each chime, then a minute of silence, after which 12 white doves were released from the steps of the 92-year-old church in an emotional midday ceremony.

A group of mourners held hands to form a long human chain, couples embraced, and many cried quietly, heads down.

"It's complete desolation for all. Church is where we come to find peace. There are no words to describe this region's suffering," said Genevieve, a woman from nearby St-Romain who knew three of the dead and did not want to give her full name.

The runaway train of 72 cars carrying crude oil had been parked uphill in the nearby town of Nantes. It started moving toward Lac-Megantic when its brakes failed, building speed and eventually jumping the tracks in the heart of town near the packed Musi-Cafe bar shortly after 1 am on July 6.

The accident is likely to spur changes in Canadian railway regulations. It has already launched a debate about the merits of sending crude by rail, which is increasingly being used because of capacity limits on pipelines and political opposition to them despite their better safety record.

Police said on Saturday that 33 bodies had now been recovered, up from 28 - although they have only been able to identify nine of them so far. They are searching for the bodies of the estimated 17 missing people.

The St. Agnes church has been opened up to let people leave mementos, photos and flowers.

People were given heart-shaped pieces of paper on which to leave a message at the shrine at the altar of the church in Lac-Megantic. One read: "You are strong and united. You will find it in you to forgive."

Real Lemoine, 70, a retired electrician whose wife lost her niece, remarked: "We are all Catholics here. We need to pay our respects."

On Friday night, Dominique Bordeleau, a high school teacher attending a candlelight vigil, said she recognized two of her former students among the photos placed at the shrine.

"It really sinks in what happened when you see these pictures. It reaches deep into you. It's devastating," she said.

Candlelight vigils were also held on Friday night in Montreal and other cities and villages across Quebec.