Christian Paradis, the Minister of International Development, holds a press conference to announce Federal money for disaster relief in Lake Megantic - 22 Jul 2013 Photographer unknown.
22 July 2013
Feds Commit $60 Million in Aid
Lake Megantic Quebec - There isn't enough aid money on the table to rebuild this town, Lake Megantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said Monday.
Roy-Laroche's statement came just moments after the federal government pledged $60 million to the southeastern Quebec town. The runaway train that rolled into Lake Megantic 6 Jul 2013 killed an estimated 47 people and decimated the city centre, crushing about 40 buildings and spilling 5.7 million litres of crude oil into its soil and sewers.
"We welcome the news and we thank the government of Canada," Colette Roy-Laroche said. "But we'll need more than that to rebuild. We're taking this one step at a time and we hope the government will be there when we need them in the future."
The money is split into two funds:
$35 million from Public Safety Canada to reimburse Quebec for rescue operations, decontamination costs, extra policing, and other emergency expenses.
$25 million from the Economic Development Department to help sustain businesses affected by the explosion.
International Development Minister Christian Paradis, the Conservative MP for the riding of Megantic-L'Erable, made the announcement Monday after his government was criticized for not taking action earlier.
"If you look at recent history, I can't think of a time where money has flown out of federal coffers faster," he told reporters. "The message to take away from this is that we're here and we're ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
Because $35 million will go toward reimbursing Quebec's aid effort, which totals $60 million, the overall amount of government money allocated to the city is $95 million. Paradis said his government is ready to discuss the possibility of more relief funds but wouldn't commit to anything Monday.
It could take months just to get a sense of the train derailment's true cost. Much of the city's infrastructure, including its sewage system, water filtration plant, and roads will either need major repairs or a complete overhaul.
Before the city can be rebuilt, environmental experts have to determine how much of the thick crude seeped underground. Houses that sit on contaminated soil will be levelled, and it's unclear how many can be salvaged.
"I don't even know if I'll have a home to go back to," said Lynn Barrett, who's been living in a motel since fleeing her downtown house the morning of the explosion. "The houses next to mine burned down, so I guess that's not a good sign."
Barrett, her husband, and her elderly mother live together in the motel room and don't know when they'll be able to find more permanent accommodations. They've heard they could be displaced until September if they're even allowed back home.
There's also the matter of clearing the thousands of tonnes of broken concrete, rail ties, and other debris that's scattered across downtown. The wreckage most likely has to remain in place until the investigation by police and the Transport Safety Board is complete.
"It's really way too early to even begin thinking about exact costs," said Christine Savard, a spokesperson for the province's Civil Security agency. "We're going to have to inspect each house individually and that will take time. The soil needs to be tested, the water needs to be tested, it's a long process."
Another unknown factor is the cost to businesses inside the Red Zone. Some were destroyed and even the stores that were spared lost all of their perishable items in the days following the derailment. Individual insurers will cover a portion of the costs, but Quebec has pledged $5,000 each to owners or landlords who can prove the majority of their income came from economic activity inside the blast site.
Employment insurance claims have risen drastically in Lake Megantic given the amount of shops affected by the explosion.
"What about my boss, who can't run his company anymore? What about me? I'm out of a job," said one woman, wishing to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing her employer's business. "It's taken me weeks to qualify for employment insurance and I still have bills to pay in the meantime."
Lake Megantic's unemployment office was within the Red Zone and it's taken time for Services Canada, the employment office, to set up shop in the local high school. Still, Paradis praised the government's effort in getting a temporary office up and running in the wake of the disaster.
"At the end of the day, we don't want this town to get hit with an economic crisis on top of everything its already faced," Paradis said.