© THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Que, Saturday, July 6, 2013. Crude oil moved along Canadian railway lines in unprecedented volumes in 2013 as delays in building new pipelines caused oil companies, clamouring to reach the most lucrative markets, to seek out alternative paths. The crude-by-rail trend had been gathering steam quietly in recent years. But after the disaster in Lac Megantic, Que., it could no longer fly under the radar.
There was no time to cry, no time to let the tragedy sink in — there was only time to help those that survived.
In the hours and days after a train derailment and explosion that killed more than 40 people last July, Colette Roy Laroche, mayor of Ville de Lac-Mégantic, Que., said there was too much to do.
Laroche was one of four panelists at a conference in Charlottetown on Thursday entitled 'Decision-making for Resilience: Finding the Path Forward and Minimizing Risk in Our Communities'. It was part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference and trade show.
Just after midnight on July 6, 2013 an unattended freight train carrying crude oil derailed, resulting in a fire and explosion of multiple-tank cars. In addition to the dead, more than 30 buildings in the town's centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed. It was the fourth deadliest rail accident in Canadian history.
Suddenly, a town of 6,000 people became a major story on newscasts around the world.
"I wasn't prepared for that kind of media presence,'' Laroche said through an interpreter. "We're a town of 6,000 people. Everything is usually very quiet. We were overwhelmed by so many media. As the mayor, I didn't have a lot of time to think.''
Even as she recounts the story today, Laroche remains calm, talking about phone service that was completely cut off and turning to the media to communicate with residents and to encourage them in the face of what had happened.
The local high school was transformed into a shelter for about 2,000 residents and for others to get information. Breakfast was served at the school at 7 a.m. following the initial explosions
More than 80 fire departments came to help fight the massive fire and the provincial government sent what help it could.
Laroche said more than 100 businesses in the downtown, that provide professional services, were relocated while 50 business, as a whole, were also moved.
Rebuilding the town is going to take a while, she said.
"We need three to five years before we can rebuild the area affected by the disaster,'' Laroche said, noting that the total rebuild could take a decade.
Four condominiums in the area were turned into makeshift businesses with some opening in the next month or two.
Laroche said there is still so much to do. The town is now planning major consultations with residents.
"We need to involve our citizens. We need our people to find themselves (a part of) the reconstruction. Lac-Mégantic will never be what it was.''
Some residents want the town rebuilt as it was, others want a new image.
"Our citizens are beginning to realize it will be a very long process but we have a patient population. They are able to stand up and remain calm.''
Laroche said if there is a positive that came out of the tragedy it's that it has brought the residents of the small Quebec town much closer together.