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Families of Montreal fire victims face agonizing wait


MONTREAL — Family and friends of alleged victims of a deadly fire in Old Montreal faced an agonizing wait on Tuesday as a recovery team struggled to enter the charred shell of the building where two bodies were found and five people are still missing.

Yukun Zeng said the wait to learn what happened to his friend An Wu was “so heartbreaking”.

Wu is one of those missing after a fire tore through a historic building in Old Montreal on Thursday that included Airbnb units.

The body of a woman was recovered on Sunday, but she has not been identified. Police announced on Tuesday evening that the remains of a second victim had been recovered from the rubble and sent to a forensic laboratory for identification.

“I also spoke with other friends of An and other members of his family. We still don’t fully understand why it’s taking so long,” Zeng told reporters near the building.

Zeng described Wu as a neuroscientist doing postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Diego who was in Montreal for a conference. He said the 31-year-old decided to extend her stay for one 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 they would be able to get more information than him.

Inspector David Shane told reporters that the building’s unstable structure made recovering the bodies complicated and potentially dangerous. He said several floors of the building collapsed on top of each other, leaving devastation.

Shane said identifying the bodies would be a “long process”, in part because the victims had to be identified by 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 called his “twin flame”.

Clark said Khan was in Montreal for a trip with childhood friend Dania Zafar. The two 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 ahead of her,” rented a place in the building on Airbnb with a friend.

Police said the historic building included units rented on the Airbnb platform, which is banned by the city from the area. They did not confirm how many of the missing people were tourists.

The fire prompted a new review of the short-term rental platform, and the mayor of Montreal asked Airbnb to stop listing units that do not have permits proving they are operating legally.

Lacroix’s father, who said his daughter told 911 operators she was trapped in a unit with no emergency exits or windows, called on the city to ensure Airbnbs and apartments have proper exits .

Airbnb said it supports victims and helps police, but did not respond to questions about its willingness to crack down on illegal listings.

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