Remains of four people found at site of Ottawa explosion, but dangers in area hampering recovery

The remains of four people have been found at the site of a large explosion and fire at a tanker truck manufacturing facility in Ottawa, but the area is too dangerous to recover them at this time, officials said Sunday.

Investigators say it's too early to report the cause of Thursday's explosion at Eastway Tank on Merivale Road. Debris, chemicals, and the structural integrity of the site, as well as the weather, are all hampering the investigation.

"At this point, it's our third day into the investigation. We're meticulously removing debris, pieces of roof, walls, and certain pieces of equipment inside the building. Our efforts are hampered by by the cold and the risks on scene," said Ottawa police inspector Frank D'Aoust. "Oftentimes, we are removing debris and we're finding other obstacles, which are dangerous for the investigators on site."

Dr. Louise McNaughton-Filion, the regional supervising coroner at the Ottawa Office, said the victims would not be formally identified until their remains are recovered.

"It is unsafe to access them at this time," she said. "As soon as it's safe to do so, we will be recovering the remains and respectfully analysing them to determine what the cause of their death was, what the manner of their death was, and to identify them using forensic means."

Five people are missing and presumed deceased. One of three people taken to the hospital Thursday has died. One patient was released and another remains in hospital in stable condition. 

"All the families that are involved at this time are in communication with our coroner investigator," McNaughton-Filion said.

Family members have identified Rick Bastien, Kayla Ferguson, Etienne Mabiala and Danny Beale as four of the people who died in the blast.

Several agencies are investigating the incident, including the coroner's office, the Ontario Fire Marshal, the Ministry of Labour, and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority. There is presently no timeline for the investigations to be complete.

"Our investigation process is very thorough, and the thoroughness of our process means it takes time," said deputy fire marshall Tim Beckett. "Our team has been making progress; however, there's still a lot of work to be done." 

An additional challenge to the investigation is on the horizon. A snowstorm is expected to bring between 25 and 40 cm of snow to the Ottawa area starting Sunday night.

D'Aoust said there are contingencies in place to help protect the investigation and the investigators.

"We're preparing to have large tents, and these large tents will help protect the evidence that's exposed to the elements," he said. "We also have a snow removal that will be available to us."

“COMPLETELY OBLITERATED”

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, D’Aoust was asked to describe the scene at the Eastway Tank building following the fire and explosion.

"The roof has collapsed. There’s a large portion that’s been completely obliterated and destroyed in the explosion and the fire," said D’Aoust. "There’s a lot of debris everywhere. We have the help of an excavator and a high-hoe, removing (debris) piece-by-piece carefully and making sure that evidence is collected, making sure not to move anything that shouldn’t be moved."

D’Aoust says there are still flare ups happening in the debris, which is stopping the work for safety reasons.

"It's a very precarious scene 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," he added.

Beckett said he could not estimate the size of the blast area, but said the investigation is taking place within the property lines of the facility. 

"We're not seeing any investigation aspects, at this point in time, outside of the property lines," he said.