Family and friends of the presumed victims of a deadly fire in Old Montreal faced an agonizing wait Tuesday as a recovery team worked to enter the charred shell of the building where two bodies have been found and five people remain missing.
Yukun Zeng said the wait to hear about what happened to his friend An Wu was “so heartbreaking.”
Wu is one of the people unaccounted for after a fire ripped through a historic building in Old Montreal that included Airbnb units Thursday.
The body of one woman was recovered Sunday, but she had not been identified. Police announced late Tuesday that the remains of a second victim had been recovered from the rubble and sent to a forensics laboratory for identification.
“I also talked with An’s other friends and other relatives. We still cannot totally understand why it takes so long,” Zeng told reporters near the building.
Zeng described Wu as a neuroscientist doing post-doctoral work at the University California San Diego who was in Montreal for a conference. He said the 31-year-old decided to extend her stay for a night because she loved the city, adding that the late Montrealer Leonard Cohen was her favorite singer and poet.
He said Wu’s parents were coming to Montreal from their home in China, and he hoped that they would be able to get more information than he had been able to.
Inspector David Shane told reporters that the unstable structure of the building mades it complicated and potentially dangerous to recover bodies. He said several floors of the building collapsed on each other, leaving devastation.
Shane said identifying the bodies would be a “long process,” in part because victims needed to be identified through at least one scientific method, such as dental records or DNA.
Jonathan Clark, who lives in New York, came to Montreal to say goodbye to his dear friend Saniya Khan, whom he referred to as his “twin flame.”
Clark said Khan was in Montreal for a trip with her childhood friend Dania Zafar. Both women, who are now believed to be missing, “were very young, very bright, beautiful, living life,” he said.
Charlie Lacroix, an 18-year-old from the Montreal suburb of Terrebonne, was also identified by her father as one of the missing. Lacroix’s father said his daughter, who had “everything in front of her,” had rented a unit in the building on Airbnb with a friend.
Police have said the historic building included units that were rented on the platform Airbnb, which is outlawed by the city in the area. They did not confirm how many of the missing people were tourists.
The fire has prompted renewed scrutiny of the short-term rental platform, and Montreal’s mayor has called for Airbnb to stop listing units that don’t have a permit proving they are operating legally.
Lacroix’s father, who has said his daughter told 911 operators that she was trapped in a unit with no fire escape or windows, called on the city to ensure Airbnbs and apartments have proper exits.
Airbnb has said it is supporting victims and assisting police, but has not answered questions on whether it is willing to crack down on illegal listings.