Tearful officer describes ‘hole’ at centre of Lac-Mégantic

A Quebec police officer shares his emotional story of sifting through the remains of Lac-Mégantic's once-bustling downtown.

Despite extreme heat, long days and toxic environment, everyone wants to help, officer says

Steven Montembeault describes a week in the Lac-Mégantic red zone. 9:45

"On Saturday morning, the 6th of July, my telephone rang … a train had derailed and the town was on fire," says Quebec provincial police Sgt. Steven Montembeault, head of the regional identity services team.

Montembeault has been on the ground in Lac-Mégantic, Que. since a train loaded with oil derailed and exploded at the centre of town more than a week ago. He is one of many police officers, firefighters and disaster workers who came from outside the town of 6,000 to offer their support.

Choking back tears, he describes the "chaos" as he arrived in town. He said crews were overwhelmed at first, not sure where to go or how to start.

About 30 buildings at the centre of town were completely levelled by the blasts.

"The red zone, we call it ‘the hole,'" Montembeault says, adding there is nothing left except for the basements.

Despite the painfully long days and intense heat that disaster crews have been working under, Montembeault says everyone wants to help.

"We had to force everyone to take breaks," he says.

Montembeault says even after they found out about the risk of toxins in the red zone, no one on the ground talked about leaving.

"No one said, 'I'm going' — everyone wanted … to work hard, to help find at least one person."

As Montembeault describes his experience, it's clear the last week has taken its toll.

He describes the dark-green hue of the oil that was spilled around the disaster site.

"My favourite colour was green, but that might change," he says, fighting back tears.