"The people that died there -- it's a lot, because we're a little town," Nadeau said. "There's almost none of them that we don't know."
The explosions and fire destroyed 30 buildings, including the public library that housed irreplaceable historical archives. About 2,000 people -- a third of the populace -- was ordered to evacuate their homes, and the town's central business district was cordoned off throughout the week, keeping out journalists and townspeople while scores of police officers and other emergency responders searched for victims' remains and sought clues to aid a criminal investigation of the crash.
Several hundred of the evacuees took shelter at the local high school, under the care of the Canadian Red Cross and other agencies.
Red Cross spokeswoman Myriam Marotte said some of the first volunteers who arrived in the middle of the night to help organize the shelter were residents who had been ordered to evacuate their homes.
"They are very dedicated," Marotte said.
Cots arrived at about 10 a.m. -- nine hours after the crash -- followed by other supplies and services, ranging from pet care to psychological counseling.
"The most important thing was to listen to people," Marotte said. "Not knowing what's coming in the next hours and days is very difficult."
Adding to the grief and shock for townspeople were the circumstances of the crash. The train was loaded with a potentially dangerous cargo, yet transport regulations allowed it to be left unattended overnight in the town of Nantes, 7 miles away, on a stretch of track leading downhill to the center of Lac-Megantic. Ed Burkhardt, CEO of the railway's parent company, compounded local frustrations by waiting four days to visit the town and, in the meantime, suggested that firefighters in Nantes somehow might have contributed to the runaway while fighting a small fire on the train July 5.
During a chaotic outdoor news conference last Wednesday in Lac-Megantic, Burkhardt apologized, said he was devastated by the town's tragedy, and disclosed that the train's engineer was now suspected of failing to properly apply the train's brakes before leaving it unattended.
Raymond Lafontaine was there, watching -- angry that Burkhardt hadn't visited the town sooner.
"If a team had come to see us and said, 'Yes, we're here for you and there was an accident, yes, there was human error, yes, this happened,' it seems like that would have hurt less," Lafontaine said. "I would have been able to get through that. But this is inconceivable. I can't accept it."
'It's as if I lost brothers, sisters . . . the bonds are like that'
A lakeside town in a region of rivers and gently sloped mountains in the predominantly French-speaking province, Lac-Megantic has much in common with some communities in neighboring New Hampshire and Maine -- its economy encompasses several blue-collar industries, but it relies heavily on tourism in the summer.
The three-term mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, maintained a confident, forward-looking tone throughout the week, urging tourists not to cancel summer reservations, insisting that Lake Megantic is safe for swimming despite oil spillage into the river running out of it, and expressing thanks for the support extended to her town from near and far. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, French President Francois Hollande and Pope Francis were among the well-wishers.
"All the messages that we've received give us the strength and courage to remain standing," the mayor said.
In a signal of the town's resilience, city officials announced that the annual "Traversee Internationale" would be held on schedule in mid-August -- a five-day spectacle that includes entertainment, carnival rides and a 10-kilometer swimming competition.
"The phones are ringing," Roy-Laroche said. "Lots of people are proposing to come visit us."
Before then, though, will be further ordeals. Only a few of the bodies recovered from the rubble had been formally identified as of this weekend. Relatives of the victims were asked to supply combs, toothbrushes and other personal items that might help experts at a Montreal laboratory make DNA matches.
"The work is long and arduous," said Genevieve Guilbault of the local coroner's office.
On Saturday, a week after the crash, the bells of Ste-Agnes, the Roman Catholic church on the very edge of the disaster zone, tolled 50 times at midday in honor of the dead, followed by a minute of silence observed by a solemn crowd filling the church steps.
Like others in town, Gilles Fluet, the retiree who left the Musi-Cafe just before the crash, was bracing for the many funerals to come.
"They are my friends' children, they're former workmates, they're elderly people that I know. I knew them all," he said. "It's as if I lost brothers, sisters, uncles -- the bonds are a bit like that."