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Lac-Megantic looks back a year after tragedy

By: The Canadian Press

 | Jul 05, 2014 - 10:29 AM |
The main street of Lac-Megantic remains closed Friday, July 4, 2014. Residents prepare for the first year anniversary when an oil-filled train screeched off the tracks and exploded killing 47 people and destroying part of the downtown core. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The main street of Lac-Megantic remains closed Friday, July 4, 2014. Residents prepare for the first year anniversary when an oil-filled train screeched off the tracks and exploded killing 47 people and destroying part of the downtown core. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

LAC-MEGANTIC, Que. - The scars from last year's devastating train derailment still run deep in Lac-Megantic.

But this weekend townsfolk will square their shoulders once again to pay homage to 47 of their friends and relatives who perished when a runaway train turned their downtown core into an inferno.

Church services, concerts, social events and vigils will mark two days of commemorations, which will be highlighted Sunday by a Roman Catholic mass at the church whose statue of Jesus became a symbol around the world as it stood arms outstretched amid the fireballs in a stunning photo.

Many people in town have said they intend to avoid the ceremonies because the pain is still too great. Social service agencies say many people have been treated for post-traumatic stress.

Mayor Colette Roy Laroche, however, says the weekend is a vital step in helping people to make their peace with the tragedy.

"There will be difficult moments, I know, but also moments where we come together as a community."

Lac-Megantic, which was built around the railroad, grabbed worldwide attention when a train loaded with volatile fuel oil careened off its tracks as it barrelled through town and exploded.

The explosions were so big they were picked up in satellite images from space.

The town is in the process of rebuilding although much of its former downtown remains a wasteland in the wake of the July 6, 2013, explosion that ripped apart the sector.

Included in Saturday's events will be the planting of flowers by Roy Laroche and a group of local children as well as the release of a flock of butterflies.

A number of musical and social events will also be held.

A midnight mass followed by the vigil will complete Saturday's activities.

On Sunday, dignitaries including Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard will join families and Lac-Megantic residents for a commemorative mass followed by the dedication of a monument and a procession.

Luc Cyr, the archbishop of Sherbrooke, said area parishes had been asked to observe a moment of silence for Lac-Megantic.

"The people in Lac-Megantic are not alone," he said. "We are there and we will be for a long time."

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said at a different news conference on Friday that provincial help will be there for residents as long as it is needed.

The Quebec and federal governments have pledged millions of dollars in aid for the town's recovery but business people have complained the money is slow in coming.

Sunday's events will wrap up with a concert.

The disaster put a spotlight on rail safety in Canada and led to a tightening of regulations.

The federal government pledged to pull all old tank cars, known as DOT-111s, off Canada's rails during the next few years.

The Transportation Safety Board recommended that dangerous goods should not be left unattended on a main track and also that rail equipment be properly secured.

The Railway Association of Canada, a group that represents rail companies, says the industry is committed to do what is required in the areas of safety, training and emergency preparedness to prevent another disaster like the one that occurred in Lac Megantic.

It says the rail industry in North America is spending $2.5 billion this year to ensure the safety of its infrastructure.

Quebec prosecutors have laid 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death against the rail company and three of its employees. Train engineer Thomas Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre were all charged.

Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, which had filed for bankruptcy protection, was sold in a closed-door auction in January for $15.85 million. The buyer was later revealed to be Railroad Acquisition Holdings, an affiliate of New York-based Fortress Investment Group.

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