July 14, 2013

In Lac-Megantic, 'the train from hell'

Loaded with oil, the unmanned freight train turned into a runaway death machine, that exploded into a conflagration that killed nearly 1 percent of the town's population.

By DAVID CRARY and SEAN FARRELL/The Associated Press

(Continued from page 2)

Lise Doyon, Jeannot Labrecque
click image to enlarge

Lise Doyon, right, is comforted by her friend Jeannot Labrecque, as church bells chime 50 times Saturday in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic for the victims of the train explosion July 6. Doyon lost her son Kevin Roy and her daughter-in-law in the accident.

The Associated Press/The Canadian Press

click image to enlarge

Gilles Fluet is a 65-year-old retiree who left the Musi-Cafe moments before the first explosion last weekend.

The Associated Press

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Raymond Lafontaine was there, watching -- angry that Burkhardt hadn't visited the town sooner.

"If a team had come to see us and said, 'Yes, we're here for you and there was an accident, yes, there was human error, yes, this happened,' it seems like that would have hurt less," Lafontaine said. "I would have been able to get through that. But this is inconceivable. I can't accept it."

A lakeside town in a region of rivers and gently sloped mountains in the predominantly French-speaking province, Lac-Megantic has much in common with some communities in neighboring New Hampshire and Maine -- its economy encompasses a range of blue-collar industries, but it relies heavily on tourism in the summer.

The three-term mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, maintained a confident, forward-looking tone throughout the week, urging tourists not to cancel summer reservations, assuring that the lake was safe to swim in, and expressing thanks for the support extended to her town from near and far. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, French President Francois Hollande and Pope Francis were among the well-wishers.

"All the messages that we've received give us the strength and courage to remain standing," the mayor said.

In a signal of the town's resilience, city officials announced that the annual "Traversee Internationale" would be held on schedule in mid-August -- a five-day spectacle that includes entertainment, carnival rides and a 10-kilometer swimming competition.

"The phones are ringing," Roy-Laroche said. "Lots of people are proposing to come visit us."

Before then, though, will be further ordeals. A week after the crash, only a few of the bodies recovered from the rubble had been formally identified. Relatives of the victims were asked to supply combs, toothbrushes and other personal items that might help experts at a Montreal laboratory make DNA matches.

"The work is long and arduous," said Genevieve Guilbault of the local coroner's office.

Gilles Fluet, the retiree who left the Musi-Cafe just before the crash, was bracing for a series of funerals.

"They are my friends' children, they're former workmates, they're elderly people that I know. I knew them all," he said. "It's as if I lost brothers, sisters, uncles -- the bonds are a bit like that."


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