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.
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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

New Brazil Poll Shows Silva Beating Rousseff in Runoff

Outcome seemed unimaginable just a few weeks ago; would put an end to 12 years of Workers' Party rule
More

Argentina Desires Deal Grouping All Holdout Investors Together

A deal is now not seen likely before next year's October presidential election, in which Fernandez cannot run
More

Hurricane Cristobal Kills Four, Moves Toward Bermuda

Storm is not expected to threaten US, but could cause deadly surf and rip currents from Florida to North Carolina
More

Peru's Congress Narrowly OKs Humala's New Cabinet on 3rd Vote

Lawmakers ratify president's embattled cabinet after ruling party offers to suspend rule requiring independent workers to pay into a pension program
More

Brazil's Deadly Prison Riot Ends

Officials say two inmates were beheaded during the Cascavel riot; two others were thrown to their deaths from the roof, and police are investigating how a fifth inmate died
More

Amid Slowdown, Chileans Adjust to New Economic Reality

Most economists now predict overall growth in country's economy of between 2.0 and 2.5 percent this year, down from 4.1 percent in 2013
More