Monday, July 13, 2009

Earthquakes and other disasters

I'm sure New Zealand's North Island gets more earthquakes than Kyushu, but I didn't have kids to worry about when I lived in NZ, so I could be all cool and blase and stand around waiting for the roof to fall before I considered possibly finding a place to shelter.

Now I move like lightning to where-ever my kids are, though just what I'm supposed to do once I get there I still haven't quite figured out!

An earthquake two weeks ago, a fairly big one, had me thinking about what I should be doing, as it was a bit of a comedy of errors.

I was sitting on the sofa downstairs when I head Erica start to cry. I was ready to go to bed anyway, so I was intending to go up to her, I was just finishing reading a magazine article. Then when the earthquake hit, it was rather strong, but I didn't really notice that as I was flying up the stairs three at a time! Somehow I managed to bring the magazine with me, I guess on some level I knew I'd be settled into bed very soon and reading it!. I also remembered to stop and open the balcony door on the way up, as doors can get jammed if the house shifts.

I picked up Erica and rushed over to the bunks. I've got it into my head that the bottom bunk would be the best place to shelter, but I didn't move Lena or pull Amy off the top bunk, YET. I suppose I could feel it starting to wane and I waited by the bunk to see what would happen yet, though not with the studied nonchalance described above, but with an anxiety bordering on panic.

But it stopped, so I put Erica to bed (she had already gone to sleep in my arms, I guess she liked the rocking!).

Then I broke down in awful guilt. I had left her up here crying!!!! What if that was her last experience of life!!! Earlier I had refused to bring Lena some water. I couldn't be bothered, but I told her she didn't need it. And now I felt SO BAD for not bringing her the water. What if the house had collapsed and all she had to keep her going while we waited for rescue was an empty water bottle! When I could so easily have filled her bottle up for her!!!!

So of course I went downstairs and filled up water bottle for everyone, and tucked them into their beds by their pillows. I settled down in my bed - only to realize I didn't have my water. Or my phone, which I felt I needed to have by me right then, I dunno, so I could phone for help from the rubble? Notice my naive belief that we'll all survive the imminent collapse and the only thing I have to worry about is staying alive under the wreckage for three days and then we'll end up on TV as the miracle family with everyone congratulating me for being wise enough to give my children water bottles at bedtime.

So I went back downstairs, and remembered this time to go to the toilet (one of things I was leaving Erica to cry to achieve) and I also checked the TV for information about the quake, to find it was a 4.6 on Japan's Scale, which is fairly high. No tsunami threat. Our whole town is only 1-2m above sea level, but our sea walls are as high as a two-storey house so a tsunami would have to be very large to get people moving.

Back upstairs I went, only to discover that I had again forgotten the water. Back downstairs again, this time remembering to check the emergency bag. I decided to take it out of the closet and put it by the door, just in case. Back upstairs again, no water, back downstairs again, finally got the damn water and set myself up with a torch, phone, water and the ventolin inhalers for asthma attacks in the rubble, all ready for the disaster.

I was unable to relax, every move Erica made had me thinking there was another one! There were several aftershocks, but I felt only one of them. I was unable to get to sleep until Kanji came home. I was so sleepy I didn't even go down to see him and debrief about the quake (ie, Why Weren't You Here!!!) I just breathed a sigh of relief and fell asleep. Not that I think he could perform any miracles, it just feels so much better to have someone there!

But the whole thing got me thinking about disaster preparedness, especially a little mental switch that flicked in me a few days later as I remembered myself sqatting next to Lena's bed with Erica in my arms. I had just MOVED when it happened, hadn't thought much, but just WENT. I then had this brief moment of calm when I realized I can trust myself to know what to do and to act in the best way possible at the time and do what I needed to do - and not get anxious about it beforehand. But earthquakes are so sudden and so powerful there's not much else you can do, apart from making a mental note of where the best place to shelter would be in each room. It does require some forethought, especially as growing children and new babies in house change the dynamics.

I think our biggest natural disaster risk here is typhoons and flooding. This is where the emergency bag would actually have some use - I threw some raincoats in there along with the radio and some snacks. There are also some boxes in the closet with emergency rations and first aid stuff, which I often wonder about the ultimate usefulness of. Either you're fine or the house is gone, right? So when do you get to use this stuff? If there's a power cut for several days maybe, or if the house is still standing but it takes a few days for the relief to come through, but that's usually in the really big events when your house would be gone, emergency rations with it. So I'm not sure but there they are, anyway!

Fire takes a bit of forethought I think. I've taught the girls several methods of getting out of their room, the first over the balcony onto the roof, and from there to the shed roof. It's also possible to get out both the windows of their room. I'm thinking of buying one of those exit ladders, if they're not too expensive, but they probably are. I'm definitely going to get some new fire extinguishers, as the one in the kitchen has expired. How nice that I never had to use it, though a few kitchen fires had me grabbing it just in case!


Anonymous said...

I had no idea you were that far South, goodness all is well now, I hate to think about the many times I was in an earthquake....adrenaline starts pumping, I move right quick..

Rachel said...

Yeah, it's scary at the time but there's not much you can do about it prevention wise, so you just don't think about it! Probably good advice for lots of the scary things in life