MONTREAL, Quebec (AFP) – Several thousand people attended a memorial service Saturday for the 47 victims of Canada's rail disaster, caused when a runaway train laden with oil went off the tracks and exploded.
The Sainte-Agnes church of Lac-Megantic, the tiny, picturesque Quebec town devastated by the crash, was filled to capacity with around 1,000 family and friends of the victims, fellow townspeople, rescue workers and officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Thousands more overflowed outside, where they watched the proceedings on two giant screens. The mass also aired live on local television.
Several relatives of the victims participated in the emotionally-charged Mass led by the Archbishop of Sherbrooke, Luc Cyr, including 14-year-old Audrey Lafontaine, who played the "Ave Maria" on violin.
It was the first chance for the Lac Megantic community to gather in a big group since the night of the tragedy, said Colette Roy-Laroche, mayor of the 6,000-person town, at a press conference Friday night.
Recovery and cleanup efforts in the disaster zone have been paused until Monday. So far, five bodies are still missing of the 47 dead, and just 34 victims have been formally identified.
Finding and identifying the missing remains has been extremely difficult. The fire was so intense at its peak that only small body parts remain, and investigators are asking friends and relatives for toothbrushes belonging to the victims so that they can retrieve DNA samples to compare with the recovered remains.
The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train, carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota, was parked overnight at a nearby town on July 6 when it slipped away, derailed and exploded in the center of Lac-Megantic.
The railway's chairman has said the disaster appeared to have been caused by an engineer's failure to properly set hand brakes on the train.