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View of flattened downtown of Lac-Mégantic, Que., on Aug. 5. Cleanup is starting to happen in the town that was devastated by a trail derailment and ensuing explosion.Michel Huneault/The Globe and Mail

With piles of rubble and thousands of tonnes of heavily contaminated soil remaining in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., the first signs of the town's cleanup are appearing two months after a runaway oil train devastated the area.

The Quebec government took the initial major step in what is expected to be a three-year cleanup on Thursday, issuing the first of three public tenders for the demolition and decontamination of an area the size of a dozen city blocks. Much of the contaminated area will be transformed into a park. "They are looking for companies capable of doing the job and many will be able to begin quite rapidly," said Christian Belanger, the chairman of Quebec's council of environmental services companies.

More than 7.5 million litres of light crude oil spilled into the town during the morning hours of July 6, when a train belonging to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway derailed. The ensuing fires and explosions destroyed nearly 50 buildings and killed 47 people. While much of the spilled oil burned or oozed into nearby Mégantic Lake, millions of litres seeped into the ground. In the weeks after the derailment, emergency crews pumped out hundreds of pockets of oil from under the town, but warned that the oil was slowly spreading with each passing day.

Much of the soil in Lac-Mégantic will need to be scooped out and treated in landfills. Under undamaged historic buildings, the town could slowly treat the soil with bacteria, preserving the area's past.

"You'll probably see a multi-technology approach to Lac-Mégantic. There's enough work to keep companies occupied for many months," Mr. Belanger said, warning that the emotional nature of the work could make it difficult. "It's very sensitive, we lost a lot of people there."