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:
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.
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.
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)
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.
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?
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.