Lac-Mégantic residents still suffering 2 years after deadly derailment

Two out of three residents still show signs of moderate to severe post-traumatic stress two years after a freight train carrying oil derailed and exploded in the centre of town.

Levels of anxiety, sadness and sleep problems elevated amongst town residents

An unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil ran away and derailed, resulting in the deadly fire and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013. (CBC)

More than two years after a train carrying oil tankers derailed and exploded in the centre of Lac-Mégantic, Que., two out of three residents still show signs of moderate to severe post-traumatic stress.

Those findings come from the second study looking at the state of health of people in the region, compiled by the public health authority and released today.

The July 6, 2013, incident levelled the city's core and killed 47 people.

"Very little improvement, and even a deterioration, was seen in health status compared to what was seen a year after the tragedy," said Dr. Mélissa Généreux, director of public health for Quebec's Estrie region.

In total, 1,600 people from Lac-Mégantic and the greater region participated in the latest study looking at the overall health of the population.

The results showed that health and psychological problems were greater among the residents of Lac-Mégantic, even those without a direct connection to the victims, compared to others in the region.

The study also showed that anxiety issues are two times higher in the city compared to others in the region and that the number of people in Lac-Mégantic who consulted psychologists or social workers dropped by half since 2014.

Other findings include:

  • One person out of six in Lac-Mégantic reported an increase in alcohol consumption the past two years, an increase two times higher than the rest of the region. 
  • Thirteen per cent of the Lac-Mégantic residents surveyed said they do not feel safe in their neighbourhood. In the rest of the region, only two per cent of respondents answered the same.

Fears persist

Andre Lachapelle, co-founder of the local coalition of citizens and associations for railway safety, said he is not surprised by the report's findings.

"No matter what they're carrying, people are afraid to see trains passing through Mégantic," he said.

"People will feel good when they get a commitment from the government that they will do a bypass track around town."

Transport Minister Marc Garneau confirmed Sunday that trains passing through the town of Lac-Mégantic, won't carry crude oil until next year.

Officials with the regional health authority said they will continue to work with the population of Lac-Mégantic to address the lingering effects of trauma and its consequences.

"Because this tragedy is without precedent, we will adjust the services we offer to ensure the welfare of this community," said Carole Fillion, deputy director for social programs and rehabilitation with the regional health authority.

The disaster orphaned 27 children, left 160 people homeless and damaged 44 buildings beyond repair. 

A Quebec coroner ruled in October 2014 that the deaths in Lac-Mégantic were violent and avoidable.

Residents, community groups and elected officials will gather in March for a "collective reflection day" to adjust the plan for clinical and community services.

On Saturday, the city inaugurated of its Reconstruction Office in the downtown area and received a commitment of $1.9 million over the next three years from the federal government help the town rebuild.


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