DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Police in the Canadian province of Quebec say as many as 50 people are feared dead after a massive train explosion on Saturday. That growing death toll is another painful blow to residents still stunned after that blast flattened the heart of their small rural town. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann went to the community.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: I'm walking down the railroad tracks here in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. These are the tracks that the train rolled down Saturday, carrying its deadly cargo into the heart of the village.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Ah, mon Dieu. Ah, mon Dieu. Oh, my God.
MANN: That's a new video that surfaced on YouTube this week, recorded by a local artist that night of the blast. Fireballs prowl across the night sky, devouring Lac-Megantic's downtown. Yesterday, the president of the railway, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic, visited Lac-Megantic for the first time. Ed Burkhardt faced tough questions about his company's role in the disaster.
ED BURKHARDT: We think we have plenty of responsibility, here. Whether we have a total responsibility is yet to be determined. We have plenty of it.
MANN: Burkhardt says the engineer who last operated the train before it broke loose and rolled into the village has been suspended. During Burkhardt's brief public appearance, he was met by angry protestors.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you walk with the rat, you are a rat.
MANN: More families were allowed to go home on Wednesday, and officials also met privately with survivors, offering aid to families of the 50 people now believed to be dead. Sergeant Benoit Richard, the spokesman for Quebec's provincial police.
SERGEANT BENOIT RICHARD: We talked with family members this afternoon. We had the officers that were on the scene, investigators. We had some people from the coroner's office. Social workers were on the site to help.
MANN: One of the people in that meeting was Maude Faucher. Her sister, Mary Noelle, was downtown at a party when the blast occurred. Faucher says two friends tried to help her sister escape a burning building, but couldn't get her out in time.
MAUDE FAUCHER: One of her - told me that she could pull her hand to get her out, but that she couldn't. She doesn't know why it's happened, but that's the way it is.
MANN: Faucher says a lot of her neighbors in Lac-Megantic are furious at the railroad, and at what many here view as lax government safety rules for these huge industrial trains that roll through the hearts of towns and cities. But right now, Faucher says she doesn't have time for anger.
FAUCHER: Not really, because my sadness is too high. My sister left two sons. Their father died in October. So they're orphans now. So I'm going to have to take care of them. So I have to be strong.
MANN: A criminal investigation into the crash is underway. Quebec's premier announced yesterday that a total of $60 million will be spent helping Lac-Megantic rebuild, with $25 million going immediately to families still living in shelters and hotels. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann, in eastern Quebec. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.