One year later, Lac-Megantic families struggle to carry on

A police officer walks amongst axle gear in Lac-Megantic, Que., in this July 9, 2013 file photo....

A police officer walks amongst axle gear in Lac-Megantic, Que., in this July 9, 2013 file photo. (REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/Files)

Brian Daly, Sarah Belisle and Valerie Gonthier, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:41 PM ET

It's been a year since Lac-Megantic, Que., burned while the world watched.

A crude-oil train was supposed to have been parked for the night, 12 km down the tracks from the Quebec border town, but instead began rolling towards the community just before 1 a.m. last July 6.

As in many places across Canada, the freight tracks run right through the centre of town.

Locals in Lac-Megantic were accustomed to seeing the night trains come through at low speed, so patrons at the packed Musi-Cafe bar, metres from the tracks, knew something was wrong when the locomotive and 72 cars barrelled towards them at highway velocity.

The train rolled off the tracks, crushing the bar and nearby homes before exploding into bright orange fireballs.

Anyone in the area who wasn't immediately crushed to death or incinerated was singed by superheated air as the aging, mislabelled tanker cars exploded, one at a time.

The tourist town resembled a war zone by sunrise. In all, 47 people had been killed in Canada's deadliest railway explosion.

Some families lost more than one member — extended heartache for those left behind.


Fire from a train explosion is seen in Lac-Megantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. (Steve Poulin/QMI Agency)

Click here for more chilling images from the Lac-Megantic disaster

Here are four stories of children who lost their mothers in the blast.

'I'm no longer at rock bottom': Estel Blanchet

Natachat Gaudreau used to cook all the time for her 17-year-old daughter Estel Blanchet. Estel says her heart now breaks whenever she sees kids eating homemade food at school.

The death her mom plunged Estel into what felt like a bottomless pit of despair.

In the weeks following the deadly explosion, Estel made a promise not to let her sadness interfere with her studies. Natachat was a single mom who raised her and her brother and was proud of Estel's education.

With a heavy heart, Estel left Lac-Megantic, Que., and went to college in thew province's Beauce region. From the start she noticed that the parents of many students "took a lot of care of them," doing simple things like bringing them food.

"Seeing people eat food that their mom made was very difficult," she said. "It made me really miss my mom."


Estel Blanchet, pictured, lost her mother Natachat Gaudreau in the Lac-Megantic disaster. (Sarah Belisle/QMI Agency)

Even tougher was seeing the notes from "mom" that would accompany the thoughtful packages.

Despite her promise to herself, Estel struggled at college. She took difficult science classes, which required a lot of studying.

"I was too sad and my head was not in it," she said.

Her grades were not good, which discouraged her even more. Estel quit school, but swore she would return.

Natachat Gaudreau was at the Musi-Cafe listening to music when the train exploded. The majority of the people who died in the explosions that night were there.

"(The explosions) made me grow up a lot faster than I ever expected," Estel told QMI Agency. "I really wasn't ready."

In January, she returned to college, got herself into a routine and found her spirits improving — along with her grades.

"I think of my mom every day," she said, "but I don't spend my days sobbing. I'm no longer at rock bottom."

Hockey and family saved Tristan Lecours

In the year since Tristan Lecours lost his mom Marie-Noelle Faucher in the tragedy at Lac-Megantic, Que., he has gone through a range of emotions.

The only time the 16-year-old said he feels at peace now is when he's playing hockey.

Marie-Noelle Faucher was at the Musi-Cafe the night the runaway train exploded. The morning after, when Lecours heard that his mom didn't come home, he was inconsolable and furious.


Tristan Lecours, centre, is pictured with his aunt, Maude Faucher, left, and grandmother, Germaine Faucher. (Sarah Belisle/QMI Agency)

"I wondered, why me?" Lecours said. "I already only had a mom, why couldn't this happen to someone else?"

His father, who died six months before the explosion, had never played a role in his life.

Lecours very quickly immersed himself into the one thing that would help him forget -- hours playing hockey for his Lac-Megantic team.


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