BURNS LAKE, B.C. — Though Kathleen Weissbach doesn't understand German, she can tell when her husband speaks to family back home about surviving the January 2012 explosion that flattened the Burns Lake sawmill.
"I knew exactly when he was talking about the mill explosion because his legs and his arms would just start shaking," said Kathleen of Dirk Weissbach, one of 19 who lived through the Babine Forest Products disaster.
Just minutes before the 8 p.m. blast tore the roof off, Dirk was relieved from break by Carl Charlie, who died that night. His other co-worker Robert Luggi was the second victim, and the two are the focus of the coroner's inquest that started this week in the small town of about 2,000 people.
The 49-year-old's years-long recovery was difficult for both of them.
In the beginning, it was because Kathleen was thrust in the position of caregiver for Dirk, who suffered four broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a concussion, back trauma, and second-degree burns to his face, neck and ear.
"It was a whole role reversal," she said, adding the road to recovery was long after he emerged from three days of induced coma.
She still remembers the night sweats that soaked the sheet so thoroughly that she'd thought Dirk had wet the bed. She helped him go to the bathroom, bathe and drove him to every appointment.
"Your life is in chaos," Kathleen said. "We've had so many different levels of normal. The first normal was coming home and acknowledging all of his injuries, PTSD and everything. Then you learn to live with that."
Often, she said, the effects of trauma on the families of victims is forgotten.
"It was like pushing a wheelbarrow full of cement. You just have to keep on going," she said, adding it helped living in Francois Lake where they were separated from the grief in Burns Lake.
"It was something we talked about, but it wasn't something that we dwelled on."
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