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In Quebec, anger focused at railway president

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 9:39 p.m.

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec — As the first victim of a runaway oil train's derailment in a Quebec town was identified on Thursday, the province's premier toured the traumatized area and sharply criticized the American railway's chief for not responding in person more quickly to Canada's worst railway disaster in nearly 150 years.

The coroner's office said the body of Eliane Parenteau, a 93-year-old who lived in the disaster zone in downtown Lac-Megantic, was the first to be identified more than five days since the disaster, which left behind a scorched scene so dangerous that it slowed the search for the 50 presumed dead.

But at least conditions improved enough for nearly all the 2,000 residents forced to evacuate after the crash — a third of the population— to return home, the town's mayor said.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois lashed out at Edward Burkhardt, president and CEO of Rail World Inc., which owns the runaway train. “The leader of this company should have been there from the beginning,” she said.

Anger at the railway officials appeared to mount. Lac-Megantic's mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, said a hoped-for meeting with Burkhardt didn't materialize. “I am angry with the fact that he did not communicate with me sooner,” she said.

A Burkhardt aide said no snub was intended. Burkhardt, who arrived in town on Wednesday, has blamed the engineer for failing to set the brakes properly.

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