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Lac-Megantic and L'Isle-Verte: contrasts and similarities

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-M�gantic, Que., Saturday, July 6, 2013. Major disasters that have struck at the heart of two small Quebec communities in the space of about seven months have some striking similarities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-M�gantic, Que., Saturday, July 6, 2013. Major disasters that have struck at the heart of two small Quebec communities in the space of about seven months have some striking similarities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL - Major disasters that have struck at the heart of two small Quebec communities in the space of about seven months have some striking similarities.

There are also some equally glaring differences.

Lac-Megantic and L'Isle-Verte will be forever remembered as unsuspecting communities left reeling after devastating tragedies that have generated debate on different safety issues.

Last summer's train derailment in Lac-Megantic, near the U.S. border, killed 47 people and triggered a heated discussion on rail safety and the transportation of dangerous materials.

The official death toll, as of Saturday, in the fire at the Residence du Havre in L'Isle-Verte stood at 10, although another 22 people are missing and presumed dead.

The blaze has sparked debate on the issue of sprinklers in seniors' residences after it was revealed that only part of the facility was equipped with them.

There is also a common theme in the way information has been provided in the aftermath of the respective disasters.

In both cases, authorities have tended to hold two or three daily media briefings to update the number of fatalities and those missing and to reveal the identities of the deceased.

Even some of the people providing those details are the same.

Lt. Guy Lapointe of Quebec provincial police was a constant figure in Lac-Megantic and has resumed that role in L'Isle-Verte, skilfully answering questions in French and English and urging reporters not to get too carried away with various theories.

Then there's Genevieve Guilbault, an official with the coroner's office whose duties include officially releasing the names of the deceased. She became a daily staple in Lac-Megantic and seems likely to be just as prominent in L'Isle-Verte.

Another player in both communities has been provincial police Lt. Michel Brunet, who spelled Lapointe on news-conference duty in Lac-Megantic and surfaced again on Saturday.

Asked about the two events, Brunet mentioned one of the most obvious differences — the weather.

"In Lac-Megantic, the bodies were completely burned and that was in the summer time and the weather was approximately 40 degrees," he said Saturday.

"And here (in L'Isle-Verte), with the wind factor, it's minus 40 degrees."

Another difference is the geographical area affected.

A large swath of downtown Lac-Megantic was wiped out after the explosions that followed the train derailment. Rebuilding will likely take years.

In contrast, the destruction in L'Isle-Verte was generally contained to in and around the location of the seniors' residence.

"It's a lot smaller," Brunet said. "That's the difference — and the number of people who died."

Brunet had been a policeman for 36 years before Lac-Megantic and said it was the worst scene he, law-enforcement colleagues and firefighters had ever seen.

"We weren't expecting another one like this but seven months later we are here and again many people died in a scene a little bit like Megantic.

"It's something we don't like to see."

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