News / Americas

First Glimpse at Canada Disaster Site Shows Scale of Devastation

An emergency worker stands on the site of the train wreck in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, July 16, 2013.
An emergency worker stands on the site of the train wreck in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, July 16, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Street lights melted and heavy rail lines buckled into a 5-foot arch after the explosion of a runaway train in the little Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, where police on Tuesday gave outsiders a first, closely monitored look at the edges of the devastation.

“Go in, listen, be silent and understand, and explain to the world what happened here,” Quebec police Lieutenant Michel Brunet told a small group of journalists who have been reporting on the disaster, which killed 50 people and destroyed the center of this lakeside town near the Maine border.

The epicenter of the blast, the “red zone” of 1.4 square kilometers, or about half a square mile, is still considered too dangerous for all but investigators and emergency workers.

But even from just outside that central core, the scale of the destruction is clear, with burned-down buildings, mountains of rail-related debris and charred, black, leafless trees.

The crash happened early in the morning of July 6, when a runaway train hauling 72 tanker cars of crude oil smashed into the town's center, derailed and exploded into vast fireballs.

Some 37 bodies have so far been recovered and there is no hope that any of those still missing will be found alive after the disaster, which highlighted the risks of moving oil by rail, an increasingly popular option for energy producers that are unable to find space on crowded pipelines to refineries.

Close to where the train went off the rails, investigators climbed atop a twisted pile of metal wheelsets, the axle-wheel combination that holds a rail car on the tracks, to look at some of the tankers, which are jumbled in a three-story heap above ground that has sagged under their weight.

The investigators work in shifts of 15 minutes at most, hampered by high temperatures and the pervasive smell of fuel.

Many of the cars are burned black from the smoke and flames, and oil has leaked into the area and into Lac-Megantic itself, a deep blue body of water that stretches south from the town.

Rocks on the waterfront look like gigantic pieces of charcoal, burned mostly black, with white splotches from ash.

“It will take years, years. We won't get our beautiful downtown back anytime soon,” said Yannick Gagne, owner of popular Musi-Cafe, where many of the dead were partying as the train roared into town.

  • A firefighter and an emergency crew work on the site of the train wreck in Lac Megantic, Quebec, July 16, 2013.
  • Melted glass on a lamb post is pictured on the site of the train wreck in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 16, 2013.
  • A man sits with a sign outside the school sheltering evacuees in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, July 10, 2013.
  • Insurance inspectors walk the rail line heading toward the center of the town in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, July 10, 2013.
  • A house close to the train wreckage is pictured in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, July 9, 2013.
  • Wagons of the train wreck are seen in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, July 9, 2013.
  • Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with firefighters while he tours the wreckage of the train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, July 7, 2013.
  • A volunteer gives clothes to a woman who was evacuated from her home after the train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec, July 7, 2013.
  • A view Lac Megantic, Quebec, after a driverless freight train derailed and exploded, July 7, 2013.
  • A burnt out vehicle sits near the wreckage of a train car after a train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 7, 2013.
  • Smoke billows from fire at the site of a train derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec, July 6, 2013.
  • Melted siding on a home is seen near the scene of a train derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec, July 7, 2013. 

Police allowed the one-time trip into the disaster zone after multiple media requests and after consultations with locals in the picturesque town. It will likely take weeks before outsiders are allowed to the center of the disaster zone.

The head of Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway, which operated the train, said last week he believed the train's hand brakes had not been set properly when it was parked for the night uphill from Lac-Megantic. He singled out the train's one-man crew, the engineer, Tom Harding.

Harding's lawyer, Thomas Walsh, described those comments as “very premature” and said the various investigations into the disaster should be allowed to do their work.

Walsh said Harding is a witness rather than a suspect in the investigation of the disaster, and is devastated by what happened.

“Since he [Harding] was more closely involved as the conductor, the person who's responsible for the train, obviously he's very very affected ... He's devastated by it,” Walsh told Reuters on Tuesday.

Quebec police have said their investigation of the crash is still in its early stages, although they say criminal negligence is a possibility they are looking at. The center of Lac-Megantic is considered a crime scene.

Canada's Transportation Safety Board has also opened an investigation into the crash, focusing in part on the number of handbrakes that were set on the train, which had been parked for the night on a part of the main line some 8 miles from town.

Safety board officials have said an accident of this kind is never the fault of a single factor or a single individual.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Jailed American Aims to Leave Cuba 'Dead or Alive'

In Havana after visiting Alan Gross, attorney Scott Gilbert say his client has lost some vision in his right eye, walks with a limp due to hip problems, has lost a tooth and is 50 kilograms lighter than at the time of his arrest
More

Oldest Living Pro Ballplayer Dead at 102

Conrado Marrero's grandson confirmed the death, which came just two days before the centenarian's 103rd birthday
More

Summit to Protect Oceans Opens

Oceans called fundamental to life
More

Actress Lupita Nyong'o is People's 'Most Beautiful' Woman

Oscar winner, 31, lauded for role in '12 Years A Slave' says she 'never dreamed' she would be praised for her looks and land on cover of weekly magazine
More

Violent Protests Erupt Near Rio's Tourist Attractions

The rioting was sparked after word spread that the body of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, a dancer on Brazil's Globo television network, had been discovered
More

Russia Expels Canadian Diplomat

Reports say first secretary's expulsion in Moscow is in retaliation for deportation of Russian military attache from Russian Embassy in Ottawa
More