02/13/2014 06:38 EST | Updated 04/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Disaster planning focus of municipal leaders meeting

Municipal leaders from across the country are gathered in Charlottetown this week to discuss ways to better respond when disaster strikes.

This has a special focus this year in light of the devastating railway explosion that killed dozens of people in Lac-Mégantic, Que., last July.

Collette Roy-Laroche, mayor of Lac-Mégantic, shared some of the lessons learned from the disaster with about 400 civic leaders from across Canada.

Speaking in French, Roy-Laroche did not lay blame for the disaster but told the packed hall her community will be rebuilding for the next three to five years.

July's devastating explosion of rail cars loaded with crude oil killed 47 people and obliterated two square kilometres in the centre of her community.

Sue Fraser, manager of parks and recreation for Charlottetown, was on hand for the event.

“Well, it is a little bit frightening. Not a little bit — a lot frightening because as municipal staff, we all know that we have the probability of sort sort of an emergency that we might have to deal with down the road," she said.

Many communities in the Maritimes have no trains to worry about, but pipelines and highways crisscross the region, and natural disasters — such as floods, and even hurricanes — are a threat.

Roy-Laroche said media attention played an important role in rallying resources during the crisis, and helped communication with residents while phone lines were down.

She said help from provincial and federal governments was crucial — as was on-the-ground assistance from 80 local fire departments in eastern Quebec who rallied to fight the flames.

But the conference heard that small communities alone just don't have the resources to deal with big disasters.

Coun. Mitch Tweel of Charlottetown called for collaboration with other levels of government.

"I think we need to reach out to the provincial governments and the federal governments and meet at least once a year," he said.

Roy-Laroche agreed, but said planning is essential. She said, when disaster strikes, never underestimate the resilience and solidarity of the people in your community.

As for her role, Roy-Laroche said she was just doing her job.

"Madam mayor, you did a fantastic job," said Brad Woodside, mayor of Fredericton.