Lac-Megantic marks five years since deadly train disaster


    Five years ago today, a runway train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing dozens and destroying the downtown.

    LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec (WGME) -- Five years ago today, a runway train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing dozens and destroying the downtown.

    "It was really like a 'boomtown,'" said Gilbert Carette, who moved to the town more than 30 years ago.

    Today, it's mostly empty, and has been ever since July 6, 2013 when a freight train parked in the next town rolled downhill and derailed.

    Gilles Fluet said he was about a yard from the tracks when the train passed behind him and he didn't even hear it coming.

    Sixty-three tank cars filled with crude oil jumped the tracks, causing explosions and a massive fire that burned for days.

    Forty-seven people were killed, many who'd been enjoying a night out at the Musi-Cafe.

    It's since been rebuilt in a newer section of town.

    "The city was split in half, because of the contamination here," said Sonia Dumont, a spokesperson for the reconstruction office.

    She said it took two years alone to decontaminate the downtown after oil spilled both on land and into the lake.

    "We started reconstructing and rebuilding people before that," Dumont said.

    Out of tragedy, she said, residents have learned the importance of getting together as a community both to heal and have a say in how their town will look. For one, all new buildings must include an element of the "boomtown" style architecture.

    "It's always a difficult balance," said Dumont. "Respecting what happened to us, what our past was and at the same time, well, how do we want to move ahead?"

    Officials in Lac-Megantic won't speculate on when the downtown space will once again be filled with shops, restaurants and residences. There's no blueprint for rebuilding. Rather than rush, they hope to get it right.

    "For us, the 'how' is equally important as the result," Dumont said.

    Construction is underway. A few new apartment buildings are up and a memory space will be built on the site of the old Musi-Cafe in 2019 to represent the town's resilience.

    In the meantime, locals will mark five-years since the disaster with an exhibition for visitors inside the church.

    Dumont said the whole world was watching in 2013 and she hopes that will continue.

    "Keep visiting us," she said. "Keep coming and see how we are rebuilding ourselves."

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