Lac-Mégantic death toll climbs to 37

Search crews face extreme heat in the Quebec town looking for approximately 50 victims missing and presumed dead after a train derailed and exploded.

Survivors begin class-action lawsuit

Emergency workers have recovered the bodies of 37 vicitms in Lac-Mégantic

Quebec provincial police say they have recovered the bodies of two additional victims in Lac-Mégantic, bringing the total  found to 37.

Sûreté du Québec Insp. Michel Forget said Monday that emergency crews have been searching the disaster site every day from early in the morning to sunset, working 15 minute shifts because of the extreme heat. 

A combination of hot weather and heat radiating from the blast zone brought the temperature to 52 C today in certain areas where crews were digging, said Forget.

He said one emergency worker received medical treatment for a minor heat-related illness.

"The conditions were extremely difficult, but we still carried out the work," said Forget.

At a press conference, Forget said crews are searching for approximately 50 people missing and presumed dead, leaving about 13 bodies still not found.

He said they have completed their search of the site of the Musi-Café —  a popular bar where many of the victims are thought to have been the night of the blast.

The Quebec coroner's office said it has confirmed the identity of another two victims and are currently notifying the families. The coroner's office spokesperson, Geneviève Guilbault, said it is impossible to know how long it will be before the bodies of the victims can be released to their families, because of the ongoing investigation.

The coroner's office says it has identified 11 victims so far.

Survivors begin class-action lawsuit

A group of Lac-Mégantic, Que., citizens is preparing a class-action against the owners of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, after one of its trains carrying dozens of tank-cars of crude oil derailed and exploded July 6, destroying the town's core.

The petition was filed on behalf of Yannick Gagne, owner of the Musi-Café, which was destroyed by the blast, and Guy Ouellet, whose wife died in the disaster.

The applicants are claiming compensation for material losses and moral damage suffered by the community.

Lac-Megantic lawyer Daniel Larochelle, whose office was destroyed in the explosion, filed the preparatory motion to file a class-action lawsuit Monday morning.

Larochelle says he has been approached by several other residents to join the lawsuit.

The motion was filed in Sherbrooke, Que., because the courthouse in Lac-Mégantic remains in the town's closed-off red zone.

The structure was spared by the fire, although it has yet to reopen to the public.

The lawsuit targets 16 defendants, including the MMA's chairman.

Also cited as a defendant is train operator Tom Harding.

Harding's role is a central question in investigations into the tragedy. His own employer called him a hero one day, then announced the next he had been suspended amid concerns about his role in the disaster.

Yves Bourdon, a member of MMA's board of directors, said Monday he was not in a position to comment.

"No one has been authorized to make any comments at this stage," he said, adding he had not seen the lawsuit.

Bourdon said the whole team, including chairman Edward Burkhardt, were told not to make any comments.

"Mr. Burkhardt can do what he wants, but we are all under the same orders," he said.

The amount of compensation sought is not yet known.

The action seeks recovery for damages suffered by people who lost loved ones in the explosion and on behalf of people who were injured. Claims are also being sought for property and business losses.

Emergency cheques cut by province

Immediate compensation started to trickle into Lac-Mégantic in the form of emergency cheques issued by the provincial government to residents devastated by the train derailment and explosion.

Up to 1,500 cheques for emergency assistance are expected to be issued to families who were evacuated from the centre of town in the wake of the disaster. Officials had handed out 390 cheques by 3 p.m. Monday afternoon and expect to provide another 500 every day.

About 70 cheques for $1,000 — intended to offset immediate needs like shelter and food — were issued this morning at the temporary provincial office set up in town.

The Quebec government has promised a three-tiered, $60-million plan to help the residents of Lac-Mégantic manage in the wake of the emergency and to rebuild the town.

It includes $25 million for urgent relief, $25 million for rebuilding the devastated downtown core, and $10 million for longer-term economic aid.

Some of the payments were available to residents today, but there were some glitches.

CBC's Peter Tardif said he spoke with one resident who lives in the designated area but wasn't on the list of approved recipients.

Quebec's Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron, on site in Lac-Mégantic Monday morning, said that problem has since been resolved.

Bergeron said he met with people waiting in line to receive the cheques this morning, and they seemed appreciative.

"Everyone is being very patient," he said. "We're certainly trying to give them all the support possible in these circumstances. You have to understand that many people are living through an absolutely horrible tragedy."

There will be a memorial mass  on July 27 for the victims disaster.

A parish priest announced the event, which will be held at 11 a.m. two Saturdays from now. Father Steve Lemay made it clear that the event will not be a group funeral, nor will urns be brought to the church.

He said it will be a chance for the community — and for Quebecers as a whole — to grieve together. He added that victims' families, however, will have priority seating in St. Agnes church for the mass.

"This ceremony will allow the community here, as well as all the Quebec public, to offer a collective tribute to the victims of the tragedy," Lemay said Monday.

A slow recovery process

The incredible amount of destruction at the scene has also made the recovery process slow, with the official death toll rising by a few every day.

Authorities demolished two buildings Sunday because they were said to be unstable and posed a threat to crews working there.

With files from The Canadian Press