A Debt Owed to The People of Lac Mégantic

This week, I can’t focus on my own debt. My thoughts are upon the debt owed to the people of Lac Mégantic, Québec. By whom? How? I don’t know. The scene unfolded like a horror movie.  A runaway train carrying oil picked up speed as it approached the town in the early hours of July 6, derailed downtown, and exploded into an inferno that leveled thirty buildings and killed forty-seven people. The remains of the dead have been identified at a cruelly slow pace, so thorough was the destruction.

Protest in Maine Nine Days Before Disaster

“Six Maine residents were arrested late Thursday night after a larger group of climate activists blockaded a set of tracks passing through the small town of Fairfield in order to prevent a train carrying 70,000 barrels of “fracked” oil headed to a refinery in neighboring New Brunswick, Canada.”  So begins Jon Queally’s article, published June 28 in Common Dreams. “ . . . [T]he  protesters at the scene erected a large scaffold over the tracks and held signs reading ‘Trains for people, not for oil’ and ‘This train’s bound for Gory’ (pun intended).”

It is eerie to read these words in light of the Lac Mégantic disaster – just nine days after the protest in Maine.  “One of those arrested, 63-year old Read Brugger from the town of Freedom, was clear about his motivations. ‘We feel there has not been enough awareness about the millions of gallons of crude shell oil that shipped across Maine each month,’ . . . [T]he campaigners acknowledged their concerns go beyond even the dire threats faced by Maine communities if one of these trains derails or a spill occurs.”

The horror-movie quality of the catastrophe at first overwhelmed its unspeakable tragedy. But as time passes and shock is processed, the human face of Lac Mégantic becomes clearer. A father who was approaching his neighbourhood and saw the train crash into his home – where two young daughters and their mother lay sleeping. “Mes filles!  Mes filles!” he cried out as the flames soared. A teenager who saw the train moving at an oddly fast pace and mused, “Imagine if it derails? And explodes?” She is now haunted by an irrational but powerful guilt for not texting friends to warn them. The agonized search for remains through the rubble. Such utter wretchedness.

We are admonished to leave politics out of personal tragedy at times like this, but there is a fury of effort to root out the causes and bring them to light – motivated, I believe, by a desire to honour the dead and to stand by survivors. The details are confused and uncertain at this point as different assertions are made: Train cars that weren’t thick enough to hold the oil safely. A regulation allowing for a single engineer to park the train and leave it alone overnight.  A sloppy sequence of events surrounding the sputtering, smoking, unmanned train that cried out, “There is a problem here!” but that was in the end ignored. Under-staffing all around.  

The prophetic protesters of Maine feel the horrifying significance of their efforts.  Two days after the disaster, Read Brugger, one of the six arrested on June 27, spoke with Jay Field of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. “The tragedy at Lac-Megantic is the inevitable result of a system that has lost its moral compass.”

Support for Lac Mégantic

The Red Cross is providing relief to the community of Lac Mégantic. To give, you can call 1-800-418-1111 or go to the Red Cross website at www.redcross.ca. To contribute $5, text REDCROSSQC to 30333. Canadian banks and some credit unions are accepting donations until August 9.

Que Dieu soit avec vous dans votre détresse.

Comments are welcome!

I would love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to share your thoughts, offer advice, disagree, or ask questions. (Disrespectful comments will be deleted.)

Join the Conversation


  1. This was a very moving post about a heartbreaking disaster brought about by a perfect storm of factors. One such factor is our dependence on oil. And we’re all guilty of this. It’s a consumer driven economy; we vote with our dollars. That’s why I am enrolled with Bullfrog Power for my household energy needs. (No, I’m not a paid spokesperson. Just a fan.) Bullfrog provides clean, renewable sources of energy derived from wind and solar power. Yes, it costs a little more (not much more) but it’s also an investment in these new, clean energy technologies. http://www.bullfrogpower.com My next investment will be an electric car.

  2. In her book Payback, Margaret Atwood examines the concept of debt in terms of what we owe the earth for the damage we’ve done. Thank you for sharing one practical way in which it is possible for people to address our collective environmental debt.

  3. I see it more as a debt to future generations. Oil – drilling for it, transporting it, burning it – destroys Earth for human habitation. With humans gone, the planet has the capacity to recover in the fullness of time.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *