First glimpse at Canada disaster site shows scale of devastation

Tue Jul 16, 2013 6:53pm EDT
 
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By Phil Wahba

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (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-storey 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.   Continued...

 
Wagons are pictured on the site of the train wreck in Lac Megantic, July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Ryan Remiorz/Pool