We’re a day closer to major disaster, delegates warned

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Catastrophe could come from unlikely source, so be ready to respond the best we can

It’s unlikely residents of Lac Megantic ever dreamed a disaster would befall their little town, especially from the railway which chugged without incident down their tracks for years. One can only imagine their shock and horror as death and destruction engulfed the downtown last July as rail cars loaded with oil started to explode following a runaway train crash. Forty people died.

The lessons from Lac Megantic dominated a meeting in Charlottetown last week as delegates gathered for a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference on sustainable communities. The message to municipalities both large and small was simple - be prepared because there are no set guidelines to follow. A disaster could come from the most unlikely source.

Delegates were all aware of the massive floods in Calgary last spring, the horrific seniors’ home fire in Quebec, the massive ice storm which devastated Toronto this winter and a derailment in nearby Plaster Rock, N.B. We might think we are safe from most disasters here on pastoral P.E.I. but that is far from the truth. Climate change and coastal erosion will have a dramatic effect on our shores. In an opinion article to The Guardian, Adam Fenech, the director of UPEI Climate Research Lab, set out in stark detail the more than 1,000 structures which will succumb to the ravages of the sea within the next 90 years.

It’s true that we are not sitting idly on our hands. Emergency crews routinely hold mock disaster responses in case of a plane crash at the Charlottetown airport, there are search and rescue exercises around our shores and fire departments regularly hold emergency training. One of the greatest disasters that could hit Charlottetown would be a mishap at the propane tank farm on Allen Street. Efforts continue to relocate that facility to an industrial area far away from homes, schools and businesses.

Delegates were told last week that each day a municipality hasn’t been hit with a disaster, is a day closer to when a disaster will hit. The message is clear: We don’t know what is coming or when, but governments, emergency response teams and municipal councils should be ready to respond as best they can when something does happen.

Organizations: Federation of Canadian Municipalities, UPEI Climate Research Lab

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Lac Megantic, Calgary Quebec Toronto Plaster Rock P.E.I. Allen Street

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