WATERVILLE — About a month after a runaway train carrying crude oil crashed into the center of the lakeside Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people, South China native Richard Dillenbeck went to see the destruction for himself.

“The moving part of it was the sense of total elimination of the center of the town,” said Dillenbeck, a retired social worker who lives in Waterville part time. “It’s as if you were standing at Key Bank and looked to the left and to the right and all of Main Street was gone. They had started bulldozing and flattening the remains of everything there.”

A year to the day after the tragic accident, Dillenbeck joined about three dozen other central Maine community members at Universalist Unitarian Church Sunday morning for a memorial remembering those who lost their lives and raising awareness about the dangers of shipping explosive crude oil.

Linda Woods, who helped organize the service, spoke about calling on our elected officials to take necessary steps, such as banning certain types of rail cars or further regulating the shipment of crude oil, to make sure an incident like that in Lac-Megantic doesn’t happen in Waterville’s backyard.

“Today we wish to honor the 47 Canadian citizens who lost their lives that night,” Woods said. “We cannot directly offer our support to these victims and their families, but we can insist that the governors of the northeastern United States take steps to control the transport of explosive Bakken oil by rail to prevent further loss of innocent lives.”

Woods then briefly described the victims, classifying them as parents, grandparents, children or siblings, then asked the roughly 40 people at the memorial to lie down if they had a similar connection.

“Your doing this will be a visual reminder of the magnitude of loss,” Woods said.

An a cappella singing of “Lac-Megantic,” written by Jay-Based songwriter Ruth Hill, was performed by event organizers before attendees and organizers helped plant 47 sunflowers on the side lawn of the church, one for each Lac-Megantic victim.

Dillenbeck, who frequents Canada every summer, said he made the pilgrimage last August so he could gain a better understanding of how something like that could happen.

“I wanted to identify with what happened to this small town and see with my own eyes,” he said. “A very strong image that I have is the portion of town that was burned out created so much heat that all the houses around the area — the vinyl siding just melted.”

Dillenbeck said he’s planning to head back to the quaint lakeside town in a few weeks.

“When we got there, you’re overwhelmed with this thought of can you do anything? What can you do?” Dillenbeck said. “I think what all of us would like to believe is the people involved in this industry of energy production must hopefully think about the potential risk of transporting this stuff.”

The observance was part of an Oil by Rail Week of Action, sponsored by several environmental groups that will hold observances this week in more than 50 locations across the U.S. and Canada.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @jessescardina

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