Report: public health in Lac-Mégantic after train derailment and explosion

Repost from CBC News

Lac-Mégantic disaster by the numbers: Catalogue of a tragedy

54% of town’s residents suffered from depression, PTSD after explosion: health report

Jan 28, 2015

A report into the health effects of the Lac-Mégantic, Que., train derailment and explosion indicates people living there are four times more likely to drink to excess following the disaster.

Two-thirds of the 800 people studied suffered human loss, and over half experienced negative feelings such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Marie-Claude Arguin, the town’s deputy manager, said children are among those still showing signs of PTSD, including trouble sleeping and hyper-vigilance.

“Essentially, children have taken care of their parents in the last year,” she said.

“They don’t have all the fears and worries that adults have … But they’ve seen the images, they’ve seen friends losing their parents, they’re living it.”

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Mayor Colette Roy Laroche
Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy Laroche says the town’s residents will need long-term support to cope with life after the tragedy. (CBC)

She said the community needs a firm commitment that help will continue, and hopes part of the assistance will be devoted to further studies on the population.

In July 2013, a freight train carrying 72 cars of oil derailed and exploded in the centre of Lac-Mégantic.

The explosion killed 47 people, and hundreds of thousands of litres of oil spilled into the Chaudière River as a consequence of the derailment.

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said Wednesday the recovery period will be extensive for residents.

In the direct aftermath of the tragedy, resources were rushed in to meet the town’s immediate needs and its citizens were well cared for, she said.

The fear, she said, is that those services may not be there in the longer term. She urged officials to recognize ongoing mental-health support residents will require.

Human and material losses

Estrie public health director Dr. Mélissa Généreux, public health specialist Dr. Geneviève Petit and Danielle Maltais, an expert on the health consequences of major disasters, presented their findings on Wednesday morning in Sherbrooke, Que.

Généreux explained that following the tragedy, residents in the Granit MRC (regional county municipality) experienced a greater sense of belonging and community than people living elsewhere in the Eastern Townships.

​Interviews with 800 residents of the Granit MRC found:

  • 64 per cent had a human loss (fear for their lives or that of a loved one, was injured, etc.).
  • 23 per cent had a material loss.
  • 54 per cent had a negative perception (depression, post-traumatic stress, etc.).
  • 17 per cent of people had an “intense exposure” (e.g. experienced all three of the above).

Généreux, Petit and Maltais commended the fact that medical and psychological resources were quickly deployed to the area after the blast.

Still, it could take years for the mental-health issues stemming from the disaster to subside, said Maltais, a researcher and professor at the University of Chicoutimi.

The public health officials convened in Sherbrooke said the tragedy will have lasting effects on the community for years, particularly because it was due to human negligence.

Arguin said more research is needed to ensure the younger generation is also taken care of, adding it’s hard to know how to handle this type of trauma because there’s no precedent.

“It hasn’t even involved children and teenagers, which is the future of our community,” Arguin said. “And they have been affected just as much.”

In October, a coroner ruled that the deaths in Lac-Mégantic were violent and avoidable.

Three people have each been charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.

Other numbers from the Lac-Mégantic public health report:

  • 27 children were orphaned (either lost one or both parents).
  • 621 people sought help from the centre set up for homeless and people affected by explosion.
  • 44 buildings were destroyed.
  • 169 people became homeless.
  • 150 psycho-social counsellors deployed to region in wake of explosion.
  • 57,000 square metres of Lac-Mégantic downtown completely burned.
  • 5,560,000 litres of crude oil released into the environment.
    558,000 metric tonnes of contaminated soil to treat.
  • 740,000 litres of crude oil recovered from train cars that did not explode.