Canadian Fireball Town Edges Towards Normality

Shell-shocked residents of a Quebec town took a small step back towards normality today as they were allowed to return to their homes, yards away from the devastated centre of the lakeside town that was turned into a warzone when a train carrying 72 cars of crude oil jumped the track and exploded into flames on July 6th.

Police erected an 8-foot fence blocking from view what was once a thriving downtown area of Lac Megantic full of restaurants, bars and shops.

Memorial services have begun for the victims. Many are happy to be home but a long path lies ahead to bring this town back to full normality and to get some answers as to why this atrocity occurred.

“It is good to be home, even if we’re near a disaster area,” said Andre Gabouri (47) as he stood on his doorstep peering over the police barricade across the street and into the warped pile of train cars.

In a testament to the intensity of the blast, which killed an estimated 50 people in Canada’s worst train incident in years, the vinyl siding of nearby houses was curled outward and the leaves in the trees blackened.

Some 24 bodies have so far been recovered in the blast zone with another 26 reported missing and presumed dead.

A death toll of 50 would make the accident the worst rail crash in North America since 1989, and Canada’s deadliest accident since 1998, when a Swissair jet crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of Nova Scotia, killing 229 people.

Investigators on Friday continued a thorough search of a large enclosed area for more bodies and fresh clues to the cause of the crash.

Federal investigators have said they are focusing their probe on whether the train’s operator – Montreal, Maine and Atlantic – followed proper safety rules. Police said they have not yet ruled out a crime.

MMA’s owner, Ed Burkhardt, visited the grief stricken town on Wednesday and said the train’s conductor may not have set enough handbrakes when he parked late on July 5 in the neighbouring town of Nantes, 8 miles up a gentle slope from Lac Megantic.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, whose government is making a $60 million aid package available to the community of about 6,000 people, said the company’s behaviour had been “absolutely deplorable.”

Guy Farrell, deputy director of the Quebec steelworkers’ union Syndicat des Métallos, said he blamed the incident largely on inadequate federal regulations to keep operators like MMA in check.

“After what we saw in Lac Megantic… I mean, I don’t want to panic the Canadian people, but if you live near a railroad track in this country can you really sleep peacefully at night?” he said. “For us, the important thing is that the government must tighten regulations now.”

The train was part of a vast expansion in rail shipments of crude oil throughout North America as oil output soars in Canada and North Dakota and pipelines run out of space.

Its crash had forced a third of Lac Megantic’s residents to leave their homes as the fires burned. All but 200 have now been allowed to return home.

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