Quebec town takes small steps to normalcy after train disaster

Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:36pm EDT
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By Phil Wahba and Richard Valdmanis

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (Reuters) - Shell-shocked residents of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, took small steps on a long path back to normalcy on Friday as they returned to homes and businesses just a short walk from the lakeside town's center, devastated by a fiery rail crash last week.

The town's main church, Paroisse de Ste-Agnes, opened its doors to mourners, allowing them to drop off pictures, flowers and notes for the estimated 50 people killed.

A few hundred feet away, investigators continued a round-the-clock search of the fenced-off "red zone" for more bodies and clues to the cause of the crash, while a stream of about 30 social workers walked the streets, offering counseling to those in need.

Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said the accident would transform the way the railway industry does business in Canada but the investigations would take months.

The TSB, a federal government agency, is probing the cause of the crash and focusing on the train's braking systems, the durability of tanker cars and current crew-size requirements. The agency's findings will result in policy recommendations, TSB investigator Glen Pilon told Reuters.

The center of Lac-Megantic, which is near the Maine border in Quebec's bucolic Eastern Townships, now resembles a blackened war zone after a train pulling 72 cars of crude oil jumped the track and exploded into flames there on Saturday in what seems to be the worst rail accident in North America in 24 years.

Authorities have recovered 28 bodies so far, eight of which have been identified. Another 22 people are presumed dead.

Emergency crews are also mopping up an oil spill that covers much of the Chaudiere River, a biodiverse waterway that drains into the huge St. Lawrence River linking the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.   Continued...

Firefighters continue to work in Lac Megantic, Quebec July 12, 2013. Police erected an 8-foot (2.5-meter) fence blocking from view what was once a downtown core of restaurants, bars and shops - but which now resembles a blackened warzone after a train pulling 72 cars of crude oil jumped the track and exploded into flames in Lac Megantic on July 6. Some 24 bodies have so far been recovered in the blast zone, police said on Thursday, with another 26 reported missing and presumed dead. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi