GAINFORD, Alta. - With a huge sense of relief and a titch of lingering worry, 126 residents of Gainford, Alta., returned to their homes Tuesday, four days after a terrifying and explosive train derailment forced them to evacuate.
Joanie Hamming was glad to get back into the house where she's lived for five years, glad to get back on the medications she was forced to leave behind when she was awoken at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday.
At first, she thought it was a Halloween prank. But it was firemen telling her to flee.
"When you're here by yourself and you hear firemen out there, you get worried," she said.
"Now I'm wondering about the rails. I want to know what the cause of the accident was. Why did the trains zig zag like that? Isn't that strange?"
Helen Rozgo, 80, found no damage at all when she returned to her house just across the highway and less than a kilometre from the derailment site. She has lived there for 54 years.
"I was kind of leery when I got home," she explained, her kitchen filled by the noise of trains rumbling by on the reopened line.
"But now I'm home I'm fine. It doesn't bother me. Something's going to happen, it's going to happen. There's no way you can control it.
"But I said in 100 years, I never thought it would be at Gainford."
Henny and Henry Bottinga, a couple in their 80s, were sanguine about the whole experience, calling it "an adventure" and "scary."
"I had dreamed about it after that big one in Quebec," allowed Henny. "I hoped it would never happen here."
But Henry was pragmatic, suggesting that having tankers carrying propane on the country's highways would be a far more frightening prospect.
"You've got to live with the consequences of many things and if you want energy you've got to live with the consequences," he said.
Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions about why 13 CN (TSX:CNR) freight cars carrying propane and crude oil left the tracks in the hamlet.
Subsequent explosions and flames forced the evacuation and closed part of the Yellowhead Highway.
The all-clear came after crews used water to help the flames burn out faster. Officials declared late Tuesday that the fires had been extinguished, the affected cars were removed and the line was reopened.
Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec said the highway would remain closed for the time being.
CN spokesman Warren Chandler said the railway would reimburse residents for any damage and he thanked them for their patience.
"We know that this accident disrupted their lives ... and we know they are concerned about what they will find when they return to their homes. CN will remediate any damage that was done."
Parkland County Fire Chief Jim Phelan said vinyl siding had melted on the home that was most damaged, but he said the house was still "livable."
Chandler added that CN was thoroughly investigating the incident and would also support the investigation being conducted by the Transportation Safety Board.
"As hard as we work to make CN safe, and in spite of all the progress that we've made, accidents still happen from time to time. When they do, CN has the ability and the resources to respond promptly and effectively, as we believe we have done over the past four days."
Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen said air quality remained "good" throughout the four-day period and, to the best of her knowledge, no water bodies had been affected.