From the ashes

Tragic event has left phys­i­cal and emo­tional scars

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

It’s dif­fi­cult to say what legacy the 2013 LacMe­gan­tic train dis­as­ter will leave decades down the road. For res­i­dents of the Que­bec town, at least, it is a deep wound that will never fully go away.

The hor­ren­dous crash and ex­plo­sions that killed 47 peo­ple hap­pened two years ago Mon­day. Even though much of the in­fra­struc­ture has been re­placed, the event has left phys­i­cal and emo­tional scars in this town of about 6,000 – about the same size as North Syd­ney.

It was all in the brak­ing. A lone engi­neer left a string of rail­cars on the main line just above town, think­ing they were se­cure be­cause hand rakes were ap­plied on all cars, as well as air­brakes pow­ered by one idling lo­co­mo­tive. But he had not tested the hand­brakes on their own to see if they would hold.

That night, the en­gine of the unat­tended lo­co­mo­tive failed and the air­brakes lost power. The train slowly rolled to­wards the town just af­ter mid­night, pick­ing up speed as it went down the grad­ual grade. By the time it hit a curve at the cen­tre of town and de­railed, it was go­ing about 100 kilo­me­tres an hour.

Wit­nesses say a fire­ball twice the height of the down­town build­ings erupted. Any­one on or near its epi­cen­tre would have been in­cin­er­ated as tanker cars full of crude oil ex­ploded in se­quence.

The Mon­treal Gazette’s Jesse Feith spent some time in the small town last week to see how peo­ple felt about the som­bre an­niver­sary.

He talked to peo­ple at a tra­di­tional gath­er­ing of young and old in the town’s par­tially re­built cen­tre, where mu­si­cians were play­ing and peo­ple were laugh­ing.

“I think for ev­ery­one – it’s nice just to be to­gether, to do some­thing to­gether,” said An­dre Blais, who lost sev­eral friends in the blast.

Many of the vic­tims had been en­joy­ing the night at the pop­u­lar Musi- Cafe. Those on the ter­race, or out­side the bar, fled for their lives. A few oth­ers rushed out and man­aged to es­cape be­fore a wall of flames en­gulfed the whole block.

A new Musi- Cafe was built a cou­ple of blocks away from the site.

“If I can get over all of this one day, it’s be­cause of them,” owner Yan­nick Gagne told the Gazette, look­ing at the crowd fill­ing the res­tau­rant. “I haven’t had a sec­ond to stop and think about what hap­pened, and I think that helps.”

On Mon­day, the town marked the catas­tro­phe in a sim­ple but stir­ring man­ner: a mo­ment of si­lence fol­lowed by 47 tolls of a bell – one ring for ev­ery life lost.

Lac-Megantic is now a town reborn. Much of its cen­tre has been re­built, with new shops and busi­nesses.

But the mem­o­ries are too painful for many. It will take some years to fully re­build the core of the city – and many more to heal the hearts of a shat­tered com­mu­nity.

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