FARMINGTON — Local folks learned Wednesday that what the citizens of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, need most is money.
The town, trying to recover from a deadly oil-train derailment on July 6 that killed nearly 50 people and destroyed at least 30 buildings, needs financial assistance, said state Sen.Tom Saviello, R-Wilton.
"We've gotten calls about giving food, furniture, money, books," he said Thursday. "We went and asked them to tell us what (they) need ... they weren't as blunt, but it's money."
He added, "Imagine if Farmington, with a population of 7,000, had to evacuate 2,000 people to shelter in the high school. Lac-Megantic is similar with a population of 6,000. Two hundred of those evacuated can't go home. They are staying with family or in motels.
"We went to let them know we care," he said.
Stephen Philbrick of Rangeley arranged for Saviello, Farmington Board of Selectmen Chairman Ryan Morgan, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce President Scott Landry, Danny Deveau of Gov. Paul LePage's office, Charlene Tremblay, a private citizen, and himself to visit Farmington's Canadian sister city.
"It was very humbling," Morgan said. "It's a very scary, somber moment in their lives."
It's not only the train accident, he said. Lac-Megantic townspeople also are concerned about potential harm to their economy.
"If the tourists don't come or the train doesn't go, they're afraid of losing their businesses," he said.
While the group encourages donations to the Lac-Megantic Relief Fund set up at TD Bank by Farmington selectmen, Morgan also encourages people with passports to drive up for a round of golf or to have lunch. Many fine restaurants are still operating, he said.
Farmington and Lac-Megantic, which became sisters cities in 1991, are nearly 100 miles apart in driving distance.
Morgan said he was impressed with Lac-Megantic Mayor Collette Roy-Laroche and how well she handled everything with grace and style, keeping a smile on her face.
He presented her with items, including Farmington Fire and Rescue patches and a Farmington Police Department pin.
"She was very gracious, but when that pin came out from the police, I don't know, it overwhelmed her," Morgan said. "She held on to that pin the whole time, through the meeting and press conference, a memento she latched on to, holding it, looking at it, rubbing it."
Saviello and Morgan spoke highly of the Canadian Red Cross station set up at the local high school.
"It showed a well-oiled machine," Morgan said.
The station offered baby formula, clothes and toys, psychological counseling, insurance counseling and a cafeteria. At least 80 volunteers are there at any given time, Morgan said.
The town basically has three funds, a future fund to help rebuild, a business fund and one to help people suffering the consequences of the fire, Saviello said.
Donations with "Lac-Megantic" written on the check can be mailed or dropped off at any TD Bank branch for the relief fund, he said.
Morgan and Saviello said they found the Canadians very appreciative.
"We received many thank-yous for being there, something understood despite any communication barriers," Morgan said. Lac-Megantic has a French-speaking population.