From the ashes
Tragic event has left physical and emotional scars
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.