The line is surgically precise: nearly 40 buildings reduced to blackened ruins where spilled fuel turned into a wall of fire; only metres away, trees and homes left strangely untouched.
The divide leads from the oil cars that derailed, rolled, exploded and ultimately settled at the northern edge of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., looming three storeys high. On Tuesday, 10 days after the horrific derailment, police confirmed that 38 bodies had been pulled from the rubble. Another dozen are believed missing.
Earlier, 30 journalists were led on an hour-long tour, tightly controlled by the provincial police force that has been leading the investigation of what it labels a crime scene. The area around the disaster zone had been limited to emergency crews, high-level politicians and evacuees fetching possessions from home.
From inside the steel-fenced perimeter, reporters saw little left standing but a few steel utility poles melted to stubs by the heat. The asphalt on Frontenac Street, which runs through the worst of the destroyed area, was broken and buckled. Where the wood and brick buildings of a picturesque downtown once invited visitors to enjoy Quebec’s hospitality, only rubble remained.
In a nearby parking lot, the axle and wheels from one of the oil wagons – thrown hundreds of feet by the explosions – stuck spear-like in the pavement.
A line is etched through the grass of a park sloping towards the lake – to one side destruction, to the other bright sunflowers and green grass. An estimated 300,000 litres of crude oil washed into the deep blue lake. Near the water, a century-old tree was reduced to stubs, reminiscent of the charred remains of trees in no-man’s land from the First World War. Along the village’s boardwalk, twisted frames are left where park benches once stood.
Whiffs of oil, benzene and molten metal still float through downtown.
Dozens of workers on trucks and mechanical shovels added screeches and droning to what was otherwise an eerily quiet downtown on a weekday morning. A police officer called the disaster zone a construction site, then cursed and corrected himself.
Looking north through Lac-Mégantic’s downtown for the first time since the deadly derailment, a local reporter began to cry uncontrollably as she saw the damage with her own eyes.