Disaster struck in the early morning hours last July 6. A train carrying 72 tankers full of crude oil exploded in the small tourist town of Lac Megantic in Quebec. The disaster left 47 people dead and a downtown in ruins
Two of the men in charge of the rescue efforts that day shared their experience with a crowd at the Maine Emergency Management Agency’s Preparedness Conference in Augusta Wednesday. They say prior to the tragedy they had emergency plans in place but nothing to prepare them for what happened.
“We were preparing a major disaster and mass fatalities. We had plans for that. But we were planning for a plane crash. Planes from the U.S. and Canada go to Europe and back and we were planning on a plane crash somewhere in the woods. So we had plans to prepare for that but what happened in Megantic was sort of a surprise,” said Captain Rene Cayer, an emergency operations coordinator with the Quebec Police. Cayer also served as the incident commander after the Lac Megantic disaster.
More than 100 fire departments responded to the scene including 8 departments and 45 firefighters from Maine. Wednesday, that collaboration was hailed as an example of how well the cross border agreement between Maine and Canada is working.
“When we asked for help they came,” Cayer said. “They just crossed border like it was supposed to be and came for help. We assume that if a tragedy were to happen like that in Maine we would cross the border easily and come give us a hand.”
The Lac Megantic community is still trying to clean up and recover from the disaster but the folks here say it’s the emotional scars from that day that could take the longest to heal.
“We have social services that are taking care of the population. We have special training for the police officers to work with the post traumatic and the mourning people. Because lots of people lost their jobs, lost friends, lost family, lost their houses too,” said Daniel Campagna, Chief of the Lac Megantic Police.
Those from the area are still describing downtown Lac Megantic as “a war zone” saying it could take them up to 10 years to fully recover.