THE LAC MÉGANTIC DISASTER
July 24, 2013
LAC-MÉGANTIC, Quebec -- Throughout the day, regardless of the weather, there is usually a crowd gazing out from the steps of Sainte Agnès Catholic Church. From there, they look down at a statue of Jesus, its arms outstretched in an apparent blessing over the nightmare that lies beyond a tall, temporary fence covered with black plastic and police warning signs.
More than two weeks have passed since a runaway train of oil tank cars, “the ghost train” as it is now known, derailed and exploded here, incinerating much of this community’s downtown and leaving at least 42 of its 6,000 residents dead. The fire is long extinguished and the ruins cooled, but in an indication of the disaster’s severity, the recovery and decontamination effort &mdash on a scale Quebec has rarely seen &mdash has erased relatively little of the destruction.
The snaking police fence now divides the town. Well outside its metal latticework, the odor of crude oil still permeates the air. The leaves and needles of trees several blocks downwind from the blast are brown and curled. The apples sprouting on trees are green on one side and burned on the other. The vinyl siding on houses and apartments is sometimes the same way: blistered and warped on the side facing the fire, while seemingly untouched on the other.