Lac_megantic_burningLac Megantic railway disaster – July 6, 2013, when an unattended 73-car freight train carrying crude oil ran away and derailed, resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-two people are confirmed dead with 5 more missing and presumed dead. More than 30 buildings in the town’s centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed. It is the fourth deadliest rail accident in Canadian history. (Wikipedia)

William Graham of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Peel North Particular Council shares this moving account of how Vincent de Paul Society sprang into action.

Lac- Megantic Aid Project 

The great tragedy in Lac Megantic put a hole in the center of the town and also through the hearts of so many people. There are so many people hurt by this tragedy it is almost unimaginable.

As Vincentians and as Christians we realized that we must show these unfortunate people that we care, by our actions and not just words and prayers. We must tell them that our thoughts and prayers are with them in this time of sorrow.

As Vincentians, we are privileged to have the opportunity to serve our neighbor when we can. We are fortunate that our benefactors are so generous with their goods and make our helping possible.

We decided to bring gifts from our Vincentians and parishioners and money. However, our most important reason for coming was to tell them that we share their grief. 

We spoke at the masses on the weekend in Saint John of The Cross Parish in Mississauga. We gave people an information sheet on what we needed as they went in the church and had a display table where they signed the
sympathy cards and gave donations. Our parishioners, over the weekend gave $2,400.00, A large amount of bedding, clothes, water and supplies. 720 of our parishioners signed a 8.5 X 14″ sympathy card.

We wanted them to know that our Vincentians and parishioners hope that our prayers will comfort you and that your faith and the loving memories of your family and friends will heal your hearts in time.  Over  700 of our parishioners signed two Sympathy cards this weekend. They want you, the people of Lac Megantic, to know that they share your pain. Their hearts go out to you.

The Vincentians at the Peterborough store lent us a 14′ truck, serviced and filled with gas for the week. The truck which we nicknamed “The Little Vinnie” gave the Society good visibility and served the purpose well. Our sincere thanks to them for their generosity. All clothing and food that came was sorted. Sarah and Silas and Zelina checked all clothes that they were clean and in good repair. All food was checked t0 ensure nothing was stale dated. Very little had to be rejected.

Kevin from Our Lady of The Airways Conference brought food twice and stayed and worked. Mary Teng and her family came twice with goods for the truck. The second trip was 20 cases of bottled

It was humbling to see the extreme generosity of the Vincentians and parishioners as they brought goods and money. However, our parish always responds well.

Our parishioners donated $2,400 dollars which was made out in a cheque to bring. From the smile of our Peel North treasurer Zelina she must be happy with the count. We have the goods, the sympathy card and the cheque so it is Tuesday morning and we are on the way to LacMegantic, 800 Km away. The trip was not totally un-eventful with road closures, out of date GPS etc.

This picture gives an idea of Lac-Megantic when we arrived. We were offered a tour of the Red Zone but why would I want to see where 47+ people were burned to death so we kindly refused.

The church was only a few hundred feet from the disaster area.The town was in disarray and rightly so. Groups were coming from all over with relief items and nobody quite knew where to put them. The main thing they seemed to want was furniture. Some felt they had too much of some things and not enough of others. This would be a normal feeling but as the days and weeks go by the supplies will dwindle, especially for people with no work.

Ironically, one of the towns industries that was lost was a furniture factory and a melamine plant. Both employed several hundred people. And were dependant on the railroad for cheap transportation.
Initially when we arrived in Lac-Megantic we were met by Louise Larivière, Senior Communication Consultant for the Quebec Saint Vincent dePaul Regional Council. She had some contacts and acted as our interpreter. Louise arranged for us to go to a warehouse where we were met by the Communications person for the town by the name of Isabelle Gagnon and a councillor by the name of Roger Garant.
At this point we presented the cheque from our Particular Council and parish and a copy of the sympathy card.

The truck was unloaded and everything skidded by offduty fireman. These were the individuals that fought the horrific inferno. Unloading the truck was more for therapy than anything. One fireman told of finding one
body in a basement under a table. It was one of the ones that could be identified.

As I looked at the material that was skidded I was amazed that it all came from one truck. There were skids of water, diapers, Pasta, clothing, dishes even a Futon and Fridge. However between Silas and Sarah we
could never get better people to sort and pack.

We went to the recreation Centre which was the centre of everything at this point and joined Louise and the pastor, Father Lemay for lunch. The place was busy with media looking for stories. I’m sure the people wished everyone would go and leave them alone.

After this Father took us to the church. It was a beautiful old church with lots of stained glass and statues like most French churches.Father Lemay was tired but appreciated our being there. He seemed surprised that so many people were aware of their tragedy and that they cared. The church was beautiful inside. There were memorial boards around the church for each lost person. They had pictures and mementos and boards with notes from the grieving family and visitors. Several candle racks and a lot of visitors.

We presented the sympathy card from our parish and Father Lemay assured us it would be read at each of the Sunday masses.

Lac-Megantic – August 7th., 2013 – William Graham


Tags: , , ,