Winter storm could hinder 'precarious' Eastway blast investigation, officials warn
Human remains located on site but they remain inaccessible
Officials say they've located the remains of four people on the Eastway Tank blast site, but it will likely take time to recover them and piece together what happened — and the impending winter storm isn't helping.
Six people are believed to have died following the massive explosion on Jan. 13 at the company's Merivale Road headquarters.
In an update Sunday, various officials said the site's dangers mean the remains are still inaccessible.
"The scene of the explosion has been very challenging for all those involved," said Tim Beckett, deputy fire marshal with Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor General.
"The cold, the site conditions, the size of the area, and the magnitude of the blast have created challenges that we are continuing to deal with and overcome."
Adding to the already complex investigation is an incoming winter storm, one the City of Ottawa has declared a "significant weather event." Much of the region is expected to get more than 30 centimetres of snow, and investigators at the Merivale site plan to use tents to protect the area.
Ottawa Police Service Insp. Frank D'Aoust said everyone is working as quickly as possible, considering the meticulousness required in processing the blast site.
"The structure itself is still very unstable, and we have not been able to get inside of it very far as of yet," he said. "There's also the potential of various chemicals and flare-ups when debris is removed."
'A very precarious scene'
The building's roof has collapsed, D'Aoust said, with much of what remains destroyed by the explosion and subsequent fire. D'Aoust said the site is also covered in debris and that everything must be removed piece-by-piece before it's analyzed.
"It's a very precarious scene," he said. "And we're taking our time to make sure that the investigators on scene are safe, and out of respect for the victims at the scene."
D'Aoust added he has no idea how much longer it could take just to clear the site.
"We have that duty of care to the families and the loved ones that are still missing to conduct a proper investigation," he said.
The site's dangers mean the coroner's office has not been able to retrieve or identify the remains of the four people.
"We have been able to locate some human remains. It has just been dangerous to access them," said Dr. Louise McNaughton-Filion, the regional supervising coroner for the east region, Ottawa office.
"We cannot presume the number of persons that are still at the site," she added. "So we will continue to look and keep our minds open as to what we will find."
Several municipal and provincial agencies are investigating the incident, including local police and fire departments, Ontario's fire marshal, the Ministry of Labour, the coroner's office, and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority.
Beckett said it was a "unique situation" to have so many organizations working on parallel investigations, and it'll take several more days just to clear the scene — never mind carrying out the ensuing analyses.
Neil Greene, the president of Eastway Tank, said in a statement Friday the company was co-operating with investigators.
"My heart goes out to their families, loved ones and to all of our employees who are reeling from this deep loss," he wrote.