Residents recall terrifying moments in Lac-Megantic train disaster
Published Monday, July 8, 2013 8:40AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 8, 2013 9:58PM EDT
When Claude Charron fled from his Lac-Megantic, Que. condo moments after a train carrying crude oil derailed, setting off a series of explosions, he could already feel the heat from the fire raging a little more than a kilometre away.
Shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday, Charron awoke to the sounds of the runaway train jumping the tracks.
“We went to the balcony, but couldn’t see anything because it’s not facing the downtown,” he told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday. “About a minute after, we saw the explosions. People were banging on our doors saying we had to get out.”
Charron and his wife ran to their car.
“We felt the heat on our arms,” he recalled. “We drove up the street in order to escape the explosions.”
When he saw the blasts coming from Lac-Megantic’s downtown, he grew increasingly worried.
The area surrounding the explosion site was a popular destination on weekends, Charron said, and the bars and restaurants were bustling with people when the first explosion hit.
“I have three daughters and I wasn’t sure if one of them was there,” he said. “We were terrified by the scenery.”
Two days after the derailment devastated the small eastern Quebec town, Charron said questions continue to swirl about the victims of the train disaster and the estimated 40 Lac-Megantic residents who remain unaccounted for.
“I’ve learned some families have lost up to four people in this accident,” he said.
Charron said the pharmacy he has run in downtown Lac-Megantic for more than 40 years is “a complete loss.”
Zeph Kee, who lives about 30 minutes outside of Lac-Megantic, said he saw a huge fireball coming from the city's downtown early Saturday morning.
“I thought a gas station had blown up,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”
The official death toll following the derailment is now 13, but authorities have warned it may rise.
Police said Monday afternoon that they were broadening their search for victims, to include parts of town which had been previously inaccessible.
As the day wore on, heartbroken residents came to terms with their devastating losses, as it became increasingly clear that the missing might be found dead:
Jean Clusiault on his missing 24-year-old daughter Kathy Clusiault
“Kathy was a very intelligent girl. She’s got a lot of talent (and) entrepreneurship. She was beautiful. She’s got a lot of guts and she loves her sister very much.
“We are a close family… a lot of people (have) surrounded us and helped us.”
Martine Boulet-Pelletier on her missing older sister Marie-France
“There’s nothing left. Hope is… there’s no hope anymore. We’re just waiting… Marie-Francoise was a very generous person, everyone knows her.”
Anne-Julie Hallee on her aunt who is missing
“She’s 93-years-old. She didn’t have time to run away, maybe she didn’t even hear what was happening. Her house, I saw some pictures, her house is burnt down.”
Hallee on the explosions and fires
“I saw the blast… it was really, really warm. It was almost unbearable… it was like hell.
“There was a cloud of flames, rolling and rolling. It was really scary… I have goose bumps just thinking about it again.”
Sophie L’Heureux, manager of Le Musi-Café
“(I) have lots of trouble sleeping because I'm stuck with the images and the sounds, the noise of the fire. It's very difficult to get away from that."
With reports from CTV’s Montreal Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin, CTV Montreal’s Paul Karwatsky and files from The Canadian Press