Bernard Théberge, a cook at the bar-café incinerated in the train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, wonders why his life was spared — not once, but twice in the past three months.
In April, a chainsaw Théberge was using to cut firewood kicked back, hitting him full on in the face. It took doctors more than a hundred stitches to close his wounds.
The pink scar running from his left eye to his jaw is starting to fade. But he still wasn’t back in the kitchen at the Musi-Café, where the 44-year-old cook has worked for the past year.
“I just decided to [go get a] beer, to see some friends and the staff,” Théberge says.
The place was still hopping at 1 a.m. Théberge was outside on the patio when he heard the train before he saw it.
“I look down the track, and I see two trains coming very fast,” he remembers. Then came the explosion.
Everyone on the patio began running. Théberge grabbed his bicycle, then hesitated.
“I’m waiting a few seconds, I’m thinking — the people inside. What can I do?”
He said in those few seconds, he felt his arm burning and knew it was too hot to run back.
Théberge said instead he ran to the back of the restaurant, where the kitchen exit was, hoping perhaps others had escaped. But that was closer still to the track where the tanker cars had gone off the rails.
All he saw was a wall of fire.
“It was a big inferno,” Théberge said. “It was very difficult to see that, (knowing) I can do nothing.
Théberge spent the next hour running from house to house, pounding on windows and doors, to get people out.
“In one place, an (elderly) man was sleeping,” Théberge said. He said the man was quite deaf and hadn’t heard a thing. He and a firefighter ran into the apartment.
“He was very surprised!” Théberge said. “I said, ‘We have to go! We have to go!’"
After that, Théberge watched the heart of his hometown burn until 5 a.m.
“I could do nothing,” he said.
- TIMELINE: Lac-Mégantic rail disaster
In the morning, he realized how badly his arm had been burned. He made his way to the hospital to have it bandaged.
Now, and every day since the disaster, Théberge has gone back to the hospital to have his second-degree burns dressed and re-bandaged.
“I thank God to be alive,” he says.
He is angry, but unlike some survivors who have lashed out at the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway demanding answers, his questions are more existential.
“Why? Why, why, why?” he asks, repeatedly. “Why some people are dead? Why others are still alive?”