The lessons of Lac-Mégantic to the aid of the stricken cities

News 11 February, 2018
  • Photo special collaboration, Denis Méthot
    The director of public Health in the eastern Townships, Dr. Mélissa Généreux, spreading the lessons learned from the tragedy train.

    Denis Méthot

    Sunday, 11 February, 2018 01:00

    Sunday, 11 February, 2018 01:00

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    LAC-MÉGANTIC | The lessons learned from the tragedy of Lac-Mégantic is now being provided to the populations of other cities in the world, which are in turn affected by disasters or terrorist attacks.

    For the past two years, the director of public Health of the Estrie, Dr. Mélissa Généreux, travels the planet to share the expertise that has been developed after the tragedy that claimed the lives of 47 people in 2013.

    This doctor, who has had the responsibility to order the evacuation of thousands of people after the explosion, has been invited to London last year after the attacks, and the fire of the tower, Grenfell, which has caused the death of 80 people.

    “The trauma felt by the people of Lac-Mégantic or London are of the same nature, says Dr. Generous. We are witnessing in the population to increased levels of anxiety, substance abuse and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. “

    “All of this is documented, both for floods, hurricanes, fires, explosions, and terrorist attacks. The only difference, she adds, that is if the event is of natural origin or caused by an error or a gesture humans. “

    In these latter cases, the psychological process to go through is a bit more difficult, reports the doctor, who will explain the lessons learned in Lac-Mégantic next month in Guadeloupe, devastated by 2017 by hurricane Maria.

    Previously, Dr. Généreux was also asked to travel to Flint, Michigan (contaminated drinking water), Edmonton (forest fire Fort McMurray), as well as in Australia, Austria, Norway and Wales.

    In post for four days

    Mélissa Généreux was the director of the public Health of the Estrie region, since only four days when the disaster occurred. The alarm clock in the middle of the night has been so dramatic that the magnitude of the tragedy : multiple deaths, mass devastation of the environment, environmental disaster, etc

    Dr. Generous has quickly realized that there was no guide to help a community to recover after such an event.

    Studies conducted in Lac-Mégantic in the years that followed the tragedy revealed that 50 % of the people had suffered from depressive symptoms, alcohol consumption had increased among men and that of the drugs in women.

    Restore the power

    Supported by Danielle Maltais, a social worker of the Saguenay, which had experienced the consequences of the flood of 1996, Dr. Generous has contributed to the intervention plan with the municipal authorities and the government. A plan that relies on actions initiated by the environment.

    “I have long asked how we were doing, collectively, to try to cheer up a population quite rapidly,” she said during an interview where she could not hold back a few tears.

    “I have realized over the interventions that this is not the public Health that had the answers, but the community itself. We are here to mobilise people, support them, give them back the power. “

    It is this teaching that it is now spreading abroad, where it contributes, moreover, to establish an international network of mutual assistance between affected cities.

    “A population more and more strong, but also more fragile”

    Four and a half years after the explosion of the train, the population of Lac-Mégantic remains deeply marked in spite of all the measures taken to date, notes Dr. Mélissa Généreux.

    “The community will never be the same. It will be stronger, but at the same time more fragile, ” she said.

    “We observed that children who were not born when the tragedy have developed a fear of the train because of the stress they feel around them, for an example.

    The return of the trains in the city centre has not helped the population to overcome the trauma. But moving the railway will not erase the tragedy for so many.

    “There is no magic wand,” said the director of public Health of the eastern Townships. For some people, it will be helping (to move the rails), but it is more than a train passing by. It is a cumulation of exposures and losses. Being exposed daily to the train is a major stress. “

    After having lived stressors primary – the explosion, the deaths, the mourning, the environmental disaster, people were also exposed to stressors, secondary, stresses Dr. Generous.

    The destruction of the city centre, the reconstruction, the hyper media coverage, indemnification, and just recently, the trial which lasted several weeks came to reactivate it at a certain level of stress.

    Taboo family

    The secondary stress, she says, it is also about living in a family where there no longer refers to the events that happened in 2013. “There are a lot of people who do speak more. It is taboo, there is never a hint. “A silence that is not necessarily restful.

    The population will she overcome this tragedy ?

    “It is sure that this would have left traces for a generation, believes Dr Generous. But this is not for this reason that, in the end, the outcome will be more negative than positive. If it helps people work on their strengths, they will go out of there grown. I believe in it totally and there is more to believe in it on the ground. “