The Quebec government has set aside $60-million in emergency aid for the town of Lac-Mégantic and the thousands of residents who have been harmed in the railway disaster.
More than 2,000 evacuees, about 1,200 of whom have returned home, will be eligible for cash payments of $1,000 starting Monday to cover immediate expenses such as food and clean-up, Premier Pauline Marois announced Wednesday.
The money is part of a $25-million emergency fund that will also go toward replacing homes, compensating businesses and employees put out of work by the disaster, and covering municipal tax losses suffered by the town.
Another $25-million will go to the town to begin planning rebuilding downtown, which was levelled early Saturday morning when a runaway train loaded with petroleum products from the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway crashed and burned. Fifteen bodies have been found so far while about 45 people are missing.
Another $10-million will be spent to relaunch the local economy, Ms. Marois said.
Ms. Marois said insurance companies will eventually cover some of the assistance and the railway will undoubtedly also be held responsible, but she said the priority is to make sure people don’t get caught up in bureaucracy while they wait.
“I want to make sure everything we can do right now is done,” Ms. Marois said.
Ms. Marois denounced the behaviour of the railway executives, whose first reaction was to deflect blame and who stayed out of public sight for days after the disaster.
“I addition to our profound sadness, we are going through a very legitimate anger. At the right time and place, the business as well as the relevant authorities will have to account for this. Such an accident should never have taken place,” Ms. Marois said.
Ms. Marois faced questions about the province’s role in the railway. The province paid $24-million to the company to pay for railway improvements that a media report said was spent on tracks in the United States. The Premier said she’s looking into it and that the money should have been spent in Quebec.
Ms. Marois said the finance minister has also inquired about the 12.8-per-cent share in the railway held by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the provincial pension investment arm. “It’s a concern,” she said, hastening to clarify that the government does not interfere in Caisse investment decisions.