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Lac-Mégantic vigils mark one week of mourning

People gather at the St Agnes Roman Catholic church in Lac-Mégantic, Que. for a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of Saturday's deadly train derailment and explosion.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

The bells of a Lac-Mégantic church chimed 50 times today in memory of the 50 people who are believed to have died after a horrific train derailment a week ago.

The chimes at the Ste-Agnès Roman Catholic church were followed by a minute of silence.

The moment of remembrance comes after a scaled-back candlelight vigil in the early hours of Saturday to mark exactly one week since a 73-car train filled with crude oil derailed and exploded, decimating the downtown core.

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A small group of people gathered to commemorate the victims and those still missing in front of Ste-Agnès Roman Catholic church, after plans for a larger vigil were cancelled due to security concerns.

Police had warned against lighting many candles because of potential gasoline fumes in the air from the explosion and encouraged residents to gather in their homes, without candles, instead. A few dozen people still went to the church just after dark where they lit a number of candles that were used again later by mourners who gathered to mark the time of the disaster, 1:14 a.m. on Saturday.

The church bell tolled as they remembered the 28 dead and more than 20 people who are still missing. Just a few feet away, a group of firefighters checked the gas levels in a nearby sewer.

Pierre-Yves Paquette and Marc-Antoine Lecours rose from their beds a few blocks away to stop by the late vigil. Several of their friends were known to have been at the local bar Musi-Café on the night of the explosion, only 30 metres away from where the train ran off its course. As of early Saturday morning, they were still on the list of people unaccounted for.

"I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping, a lot of nightmares. I can't stop imagining the sewers that were blowing up," said Mr. Lecours, who was at a local beach when the explosion happened.

Since its reopening Friday morning, the church has become the impromptu town centre and gathering place for Lac-Mégantic residents. Accessible to residents 24 hours a day, it became known as its heart -- a place where people came and went as Father Steve Lemay greeted them.

Resident Daniel Boulet made his way to the vigil from a special screening in the community of a newly-released film Louis Cyr, depicting the life of a Quebec man who was considered the strongest man in the world in the late 1800s. He was a man from a small town who received worldwide attention, similar to Lac-Mégantic itself. Actor Antoine Bertrand, who plays Louis Cyr, and producer Christian Larouche were in town to attend the three screenings for residents.

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"The movie helped, it was nice of the actors to come," Mr. Boulet said. "I came to the church to say a few prayers."

Candlelight vigils were organized by over 50 communities in Quebec and across the country Friday night in a show of support and solidarity for Lac-Mégantic.

- With a report from The Canadian Press

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