Lessons Learned From Christchurch Earthquake

This is a Guest Post by Sue Martin-Smith – How To Survive An Earthquake

For the people of Christchurch, and indeed the whole of New Zealand, the sh*t has hit the fan, and for many the world as they know it has in fact ended.

Back on 4th September last year, Christchurch was hit with a 7.1 earthquake which did serious damage around the city, destroying hundreds of homes and shops, but, as it hit in the middle of the night, killed no-one. They have had literally thousands of aftershocks, further damaging buildings. Then last Tuesday, an utterly devastating 6.3 earthquake, centred only 5km beneath the city, has done an indescribable amount of damage. This time it hit at lunchtime, when the centre of the city, the office blocks, and the shopping malls, were packed with people.

Thankfully, I live about 750Km from the carnage, and have no loved ones among the dead or missing, but have a number of friends and colleagues called to assist with the crisis.

At this point there are 154 confirmed dead, with around 50 still missing, probably trapped in the rubble that was once Christchurch. Urban Search and Rescue teams from all over the world are helping with the rescue and recovery process, amid major aftershocks, which have now eased off to about hourly.

Around one-third of the CBD has been destroyed, the iconic Cathedral has collapsed, killing many tourists, 2 multi-storey office blocks pancaked into piles of rubble, and a major hotel is teetering above several buildings where rescuers are trying to dig people out.

The main problems for those who are trying to survive in what is left of their own homes are the loss of water, sewage and electricity services, and having raw sewage and water from burst mains in the roads running through their gardens and homes, and everyone has learned of a new phenomenon called liquefaction. This is when apparently solid ground effectively turns to liquid, and silt and sand come pouring up from the ground covering the land, and houses, roads, gardens and cars fall in the resulting gaps in the earth.

This sandy silt has invaded homes through cracks in the floor, and in the hot, dry summer weather, is now drying to a choking grey dust. Roads are impassable, even on foot, shops, offices and schools have been destroyed, along with the way of lives of thousands of people. They have no home, no employment / business, in many cases have lost family or have been seriously injured, and are living in welfare centres, or have abandoned the city completely. For these people, The End Of The World As We know It has happened.

There are many things we can learn from the disaster, from a survival point of view.

We are now on day 7, and some major long-term problems are emerging. Despite the huge wake-up call in September, and the constant reminders since, many people were not prepared, especially in terms or stored food and water. I suspect people thought that, having survived the first earthquake, that it couldn’t possibly happen again.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder:

1. Insurance

Many people were under-insured. They have lost their homes, businesses and possessions, and now have nothing but a pile of silt and a huge mortgage.

2. Water

Fresh water supplies are having to be trucked in from outside the region, as mains, reservoirs and rivers are heavily damaged and/or polluted. It appears not many had enough to last 24 hours, let alone a week or more.

3. Sewage

Few people have thought of the concept of digging a latrine in their back garden, and are abandoning their homes in favour of welfare shelters, with their rows of portable toilets ( I have just heard of a plane-load of 960 “Portaloos” being flown in from the US)

4. Food

Those “clever” people who thought to stock up on food bought lots of frozen food – not very useful after 6 days of no electricity or cooking facilities. Supermarkets are either destroyed or unable to get supplies – bread, milk and water are the main commodities in demand.

5. Communication

Almost everyone has cellphones, and although power went out, and some cellphone towers collapsed, people were calling from their position trapped in the rubble – but most cellphone batteries didn’t last long, as they were not charged up.

6. Family contact

Families did not have a plan of how to contact each other in the event of an emergency. When the quake struck, children were at school, husbands and fathers were at work, mothers were shopping, and many anxious hours were spent in trying to find each other. Relatives from out-of-town spent days trying to contact loved ones.

Authorities found it simpler to work out how many overseas tourists were missing than local people. The total number missing is still not known – 7 days after the disaster. Many people abandoned the city without telling anyone where they had gone, leaving anxious relatives wondering. Red Cross and Civil Defence have a very robust registration and matching system in place, but many people simply disappeared – out of town or under the rubble?

7. Crime

The first of the email charity scams sprung up within 24 hours, looting, profiteering and scams started and have taken police away from safety work, and people are ignoring cordons put in places for safety reasons – aftershocks are still bringing buildings down. And then there were the 2 mindless idiots who stole the generators being used by rescue personnel. They are indeed lucky that people do not carry guns in New Zealand!

8. The emotional and psychological toll

Now that the adrenaline has worn off, and people are coming to terms with what has happened, emotions are running high. The busiest department in the Hospital after the September quake was cardiology. Many people with heart problems (diagnosed or not) have had heart attacks, or other cardiac problems – the body is not built to handle this much stress. This time, it seems to be the maternity ward! Many babies have been born early to mothers under immense stress, which has brought on early labour to dozens of women.

Tempers are at breaking point (and beyond), domestic violence has shot up, rage simmers just below the surface and children who have had their home, school and sometimes family members removed from them permanently are not coping well at all. People are taking huge risks trying to dig out people and possessions from the rubble.

9. The liquefaction and the dust

At this time of year, Christchurch is host to hot dry northwesterly winds, and a large storm system is hitting Christchurch. This has had the effect of drying out the estimated 180,000 tonnes of silt lying throughout the city, and whipping it up into the atmosphere breathed by the people trying to survive. Hard hats, overalls, boots and a dust mask is now the uniform for those working inside the cordon zone. Hospitals are gearing up for respiratory problems caused by the dust.

So, what can we learn of survival preparation from all this? Most people are learning that they were not as well-prepared for this as they thought they were. After the previous earthquakes many people though it could never happen again, and did nothing, but concentrated on the cleanup. There were those who stocked up on supplies – but many bought frozen goods, or food which required cooking, or had not filled BBQ gas bottles.

As this happened in the middle of a normal business day, people were in their offices and shops. Their emergency kits were left at home, or in their cars. With roads unusable, and cars destroyed and buried, many people had to walk for hours to get home – that is, those who escaped the building collapses etc. When they got home, they found their house in ruins, water, sewage and the ubiquitous silt everywhere.

Now we have an exodus of sorts. People are streaming out of the city, and many may never return. I wonder how many of those people had emergency evac kits to grab and take with them.

I have been reading the articles on this website for a while now, and have been tweaking the contents of my home and car kits. But no guns – guns are simply not part of New Zealand life. But it seems to me that all the planning and discussions in the world tend to fall apart when the REAL s**t hits the fan. A survival kit is only useful if it is easily accessible where you are when you need it, and if the contents are related to what may actually happen to you.

According to some of the people directly affected by this disaster, the things they have learned about survival include:

  • Make sure someone knows where you are, so they know where to look for you.
  • If you do escape the disaster, let people know you are safe, so they don’t waste time looking for your body.
  • If you work away from home, make sure you have decent walking footwear in your office or car, in case you have to hike through the rubble to get home.
  • Once you do get home, you may find you have no power or water – make sure you have a secure water supply, a means of cooking (or at least boiling water) without electricity, and some camping gear in case your house is uninhabitable.
  • If the sewage lines are damaged, you will not be able to flush the toilet, even if your house has water. Have some alternative in mind – dig a latrine, use a chemical toilet, bucket, or similar.
  • Know your neighbors. Check that they are OK. Get to know them, and they will know to check up on you.
  • Store your survival kit in a sensible place in or near your house. Under the stairs, in the basement or by the brick wall or chimney are not good places in an earthquake. Try the garden shed. Better still, split the kit and place it in multiple places, just in case.
  • The food in your kit should be high energy, easy to prepare food. Frozen food, or stuff that takes time, equipment or electricity to cook are no good. Instant meals are the best – ready-to-eat, or just-add-water are ideal.
  • Keep your car petrol tank full, and your cellphone charged up.
  • Be aware that when the power is restored, broken wires could trigger a fire, so switch off the mains until an electrician checks for safety.
  • Your survival kit should include important papers such as birth certificates and passports. Also keep you insurance policies here, and a paper copy of the names and numbers stored in your cellphone – you can’t use it if the battery goes flat. Sentimental items and photographs should be in the kit too.
  • Put a hidden stash of cash somewhere – banks will be out, and your employer may not be able to pay you for a while.

This is a major disaster on a global scale – they are saying the impact of the earthquake on Christchurch is bigger than the economic toll that Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans in 2005. Christchurch City will never be the same, and for many people, this has been the end of the world as they know it.

Would you be ready if THIS happened in your city? Are YOU prepared for your world to end like this? It’s not the big things, like wars or political takeovers. It’s the little things, like your workplace ceasing to exist, and not having a home to go back to, or not being able to flush the toilet or have a shower for a week, that really break people.

Have You Been Felt Up Today?

Have You Been Felt Up By TSA Today?photo by Sam Ley, view the full “making of” set here.

America Is Getting Poorer

Las Vegas Suffering Like Never Before – Gambling revenues have hit the skids, accompanied by the collapse of the construction industry. Confidence that the return of tourists will revive the city and the state is absent.

Things Will Unravel Faster Than You Think – By my analysis, we are not yet on the final path to recovery, and there are one or more financial ‘breaks’ coming in the future.

The Proof Is In The Numbers: America Is Getting Poorer – The U.S. economy is in deep, deep trouble and the proof is in the numbers. The following are 12 statistics that reveal just how far the standard of living in America is declining….

Global employment crisis will stir social unrest, warns UN agency – Global employment will not recover to pre-crisis levels until 2015 if current policies are pursued, creating social tension, the International Labour Organisation has warned.

Is The Federal Reserve Out Of Control? – Markets Across The Globe Brace For Impact As The Federal Reserve Powers Up The Printing Presses.

James Islanders arming themselves – Some James Island residents frustrated by a continuing rash of home burglaries are keeping guns handy, installing security systems and locking doors to keep from being victimized.

Economic Collapse Update

Economic Collapse Update – Our current economy is a shell game. A grand fraud designed to siphon more and more tangible wealth (not fiat wealth) from the average person and transport it post-haste into the silk lined pockets of a corporate banking minority. The goal? To reduce the self sufficiency of American citizens to the point of total fiscal and social dependence on the top 1% richest men in the world.

House Votes 348-79 To Declare (Trade) War On China – We’re not sure what they hope to accomplish with this, but the House has voted 348-79 to penalize China for its practice of fixing the yuan to the dollar, at a level which foreign exchange experts in Congress believe to be too low.

More Lost Jobs: Caterpillar To Build Another Factory In China – Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment, will build a factory in China to produce mini hydraulic excavators, the company said in a statement.

Cold Hard Reality Hits Oregon – Borrowing money to cover operating expenses is just plain stupid. The results speak for themselves. Oregon is out of borrowing capacity until 2014 and it is currently deep in the hole on revenues. That is a toxic mix.

10 Signs The U.S. Is Losing Its Influence In The Western Hemisphere – We won’t be the alpha dog in the western hemisphere forever.

Bird flu fears – The H5N1 bird flu virus may be evolving the ability to spread from mammal to mammal, says a team who have discovered that pigs in Indonesia have been infected with the disease since 2005.

The Most Taxed States in the U.S.

John Paulson’s Scary Speech: Double Digit Inflation By 2012, Gold At $4,000 – John Paulson scared the pants off of a packed audience at New York’s University Club recently as he warned them of huge changes in the economic environment in the years to come.

Dollar Is `One Step Nearer’ to Crisis on Burgeoning Debt Burden – The U.S. dollar is “one step nearer” to a crisis as debt levels in the world’s largest economy increase, said Yu Yongding, a former adviser to China’s central bank.

States Are Poised to Be Next Credit Crisis for US: Whitney – Crippling debts and deficits are about to make individual states the next casualty of the credit crisis, analyst Meredith Whitney told CNBC.

Lifelines for the poor are disappearing – More people than ever living in poverty, the government’s unprecedented effort to strengthen the safety net for needy Americans is running out.

Banks Still Collapsing-America Close To Destructive Tipping Point – The largest number of bank failures in nearly 20 years has eliminated jobs, accelerated a drought in lending and left the industry’s survivors with more power to squeeze customers.
Some 279 banks have collapsed since Sept. 25, 2008.

The Most Taxed States in the U.S. – We’ve crunched the numbers, divided each state’s population by the corresponding state taxes collected in 2009, and come up with a ranking of the most taxed states.

How Does Swine Flu Spread

Photo By: Lulu Hoeller

Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with swine flu have occurred. Most commonly, these cases occur in persons with direct exposure to pigs (e.g. children near pigs at a fair or workers in the swine industry). In addition, there have been documented cases of one person spreading Swine flu to others.For example, an outbreak of apparent Swine flu infection in pigs in Wisconsin in 1988 resulted in multiple human infections, and, although no community outbreak resulted, there was antibody evidence of virus transmission from the patient to health care workers who had close contact with the patient.

How common is swine flu infection in humans?
In the past, CDC received reports of approximately one human swine influenza virus infection every one to two years in the U.S., but from December 2005 through February 2009, 12 cases of human infection with swine influenza have been reported. For information on the number of probable and confirmed cases of novel H1N1 flu in humans see Novel H1N1 Flu Situation Update.
What are the symptoms of swine flu in humans?
The symptoms of swine flu in people are expected to be similar to the symptoms of regular human seasonal influenza and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with swine flu also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Can people catch swine flu from eating pork?
No. Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is safe. Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses.
How does swine flu spread?
Influenza viruses can be directly transmitted from pigs to people and from people to pigs. Human infection with flu viruses from pigs are most likely to occur when people are in close proximity to infected pigs, such as in pig barns and livestock exhibits housing pigs at fairs. Human-to-human transmission of swine flu can also occur. This is thought to occur in the same way as seasonal flu occurs in people, which is mainly person-to-person transmission through coughing or sneezing of people infected with the influenza virus. People may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
What do we know about human-to-human spread of swine flu?
In September 1988, a previously healthy 32-year-old pregnant woman was hospitalized for pneumonia and died 8 days later. A swine H1N1 flu virus was detected. Four days before getting sick, the patient visited a county fair swine exhibition where there was widespread influenza-like illness among the swine.
In follow-up studies, 76% of swine exhibitors tested had antibody evidence of swine flu infection but no serious illnesses were detected among this group. Additional studies suggest that one to three health care personnel who had contact with the patient developed mild influenza-like illnesses with antibody evidence of swine flu infection.

CDC