Quebec calls inquiry into deadly overpass collapse

Police say five people were crushed to death in their cars when a highway overpass collapsed in Laval, north of Montreal, on Saturday.

The Quebec government will hold a public inquiry into thecollapse of a highway overpass in Laval, north of Montreal, that sent tonnes of concrete on to two cars,crushing five people to death.

Three of the victims — all adult members of the same family —were in one of the cars, while two were in the second vehicle, police said Sunday.

Crane operators recovered the wrecked cars early Sunday after crews worked fornearly 15 hours to cleargiant slabs of rubble.

"We knew that nobody could survive the impact of that structure on top of their vehicles, which were completely squashed at that point,"Quebec provincialpolicespokesman Jayson Gauthier said Sunday.

They loadedthevehicles —which had been crushed so badlythey barely reached the knees of one firefighter on the scene — on to a flatbed truck and took them to a municipal garage.

Couple had young son

Police identified three of the five dead as: Jean-Pierre Hamel, 40; his partner, Sylvie Beaudet, 40; and his brother Gilles, 44.

In the Laval neighbourhood where Hamel and Beaudet lived with their eight-year-old son, neighbour José Viveiros said he wondered Saturday whythe couplehadn't picked up their son from a hockey game.Only laterdid he learnthe boy had lost his mother and father.

"It's so sad," he told the CBC on Sunday. "An eight-year-old child, and now …"

Debris fell ahead of collapse

Chunksof concrete were seen falling from the overpass before it collapsed at about12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, reports said.

An inspectorwas dispatched to the scene to clean up the pieces of concrete that had fallen about an hour before the overpass suddenly dropped, Quebec Transportation Minister Michel Després confirmed onSunday.

He said the official collected the debris, but didn't order the closure of the overpass.

A stretch of three lanes of the viaduct, part of Boulevard de la Concorde, gave way, dropping onto Highway 19 below, causingthree vehicles and a motorcycle on the overpass to plunge 15 metres.

Spinal columninjuries

Six peoplewere injured,two critically. Three of the four adults undergoing treatment at Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal suffered vertebral fractures, Dr. Jacques Laplante told reporters.

One of the injured underwent surgery Sunday morning, while another was to undergo an operation later in the day, he said.

Robert Hotte of Laval was driving east on Boulevard de la Concorde when his car fell to the highway below. He and his girlfriend escaped with minor injuries.

"It was like a roller-coaster ride. I saw just in front of me the bridge collapsing," he told CBC News. "Then it became all dark. We managed to get out from my side window."

Renata Isopo, who lives a few houses away from the overpass, said the collapse sounded like an earthquake.

"It was something like a huge rock rolling down, just making one enormous thump — making the houses shake," she said.

Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt told CBC News there was no reason to suspect problems on the 35-year-oldbridge.

"Buses were going on it, trucks —everybody was going on it every day. The bridge had been inspected less thana year ago," he said.

This is the second bridge to come down in Laval in seven years. In 2000, an overpass under construction collapsed, killing one man. Inspectors are now checking all bridges in the area to make sure they are sound.

The provincealso announced Sunday it had closed a second overpass of similar design and age.