What Lies Ahead for Lac-Mégantic?

When a tanker train carrying crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec derailed and exploded on July 6, the tragedy was largely glossed over, if not ignored, by the American media. The immediate consequences were bad enough—half a town completely destroyed, at least 28 dead and 22 missing or presumed dead, as of Friday. The aftermath and recovery for the community will be equally difficult.

One million liters of crude oil remain trapped in the train cars, unable to be cleaned up until police complete their investigation and coroners finish searching for human remains. When cleanup crews are finally able to begin decontaminating the area, the process will take months and cost tens of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, oil continues to seep into the ground and into the sewage system. In total, 6.5 million liters of crude oil were either burned or spilled, flooding at least 50 buildings and houses and contaminating the sewage system, which will almost certainly need to be rebuilt.

As authorities search for human remains—which are difficult to detect because of the intensity of the explosions and ensuing fires—spilled oil has begun to contaminate the Chaudière River. Floating booms have already been placed on the river to contain the oil and keep it away from shorelines.

Some progress has already been made. 400,000 liters of oil have been pumped out of the sewers and 4 million liters of contaminated river and lake water have been contained. The problem of cleaning up the contaminated soil still remains, however. The soil can either be removed and replaced entirely, which would require 30,000 truckloads, or it can be cleaned onsite.

“Each of these (phases) will take months,” said one official. “To repair all this, to rebuild the town centre and return to normal will take years.”

The physical and emotional damage for the people of Lac-Mégantic is unimaginable. A long road to recovery lies ahead.