Sunday, February 2, 2014

Rural insularity in Canada

Ian Austen reports today from L'Isle Verte, Quebec, where 32 elderly residents died in a retirement home fire a few weeks ago.  He focuses on the community's response to the disaster, as reflected in the headline, "Stunned by a Tragedy, a Village in Rural Quebec Turns Inward." Austen writes:
Nearly everyone in this town of 1,425 people has been affected in some way: the families of those who died; the police officers who arrived in the early morning hours and crawled down hallways to avoid smoke, dragging elderly residents out on their backs; the firefighters who doused the blaze with water, the spray instantly freezing in the minus-8-degree cold, entombing the bodies in more than two feet of ice. 
For the province of Quebec, the tragedy evoked a particularly horrible sense of déjà vu. It came nearly seven months after a runaway oil train exploded into a fireball in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people in a town of 6,000 some 245 miles away. 
Indeed, Austen considers briefly the similarities and differences between the L'Isle Verte and Lac-Megantic disasters.  Among the differences, Austen notes:
The stunned reticence [in L'Isle Verte] contrasted sharply with angry volubility in Lac-Mégantic. There the cause was clear: a speeding train on a rundown railway, whose unrepentant owner provided a target for blame that residents were eager to share with the world.
Austen explains that the cause of the L'Isle Verte fire is still unknown, and residents of the town, "richer in history and natural beauty than economic opportunity," are shunning the media intrusion.
At a news conference for local reporters in the back of a motel banquet room on Monday, Mayor Ursule Thériault was blunt. “L’Isle-Verte would be better without journalists,” she said. Another municipal official urged residents not to answer their doors for journalists or, better still, to leave town until the last of the television network satellite trucks have driven away.
Austen quotes police Lieutenant Michel Brunet who was stationed in Bas St. Laurent, the region that includes L'Isle Verte, early in his career as saying "the locals had always kept to themselves, reluctant even to speak with police officers looking into crimes where they were victims.  The villagers’ recovery from this disaster, he said, will come from within themselves."
They’re very close to each other.  They have real solidarity.

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