This morning in Athens, many of us were awaken at 7:14 a.m. by a 6.5 earthquake that rocked and rolled for a good 30-40 seconds and was purportedly felt in the whole of Greece. A different kind of Revelation to celebrate Epiphany, a day normally reserved for diving into icy waters to recover a holy cross, not diving for cover.
With its epicenter between Leonidio and the city of Sparta, it started slow, gained strength and threw in a few jolts for good measure. Residents as far as Crete reported feeling it.
I was awake 15 minutes prior because I couldn’t sleep…probably a coincidence since I don’t claim to have the sixth sense that animals do.
People here get very freaked out by earthquakes, run outside and call each other, which is followed by reminiscing about the big one in 1999 and wagering on whether the earthquake service told the truth about Richter measurements. Greek news never disappoints with its over-dramatic feeding frenzy.
I’m the opposite. Being from California, earthquakes have been a natural part of life since I was born. I was taught to duck and cover when I was 4, we rehearsed our escape route at school and at home, an emergency kit with radio and rations was in the garage, and most natives don’t even blink unless the Richter registers above 7.0. We hate visitors who come to our state wishing for an earthquake as if it’s a tourist attraction.
The only amusing earthquake-in-Greece story in my arsenal is about my friend K. She had never felt an earthquake in her life (being from Germany), thought the building was collapsing and ran outside in little more than her underwear. Not only the wrong thing to do in an earthquake, but an embarrassing albeit memorable way to meet the neighbors.
Shall we review basic earthquake safety?
What to do in an earthquake
If you are indoors:
- Duck and cover: Take cover under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture until the shaking has stopped. Crouch in a fetal position with your legs tucked under you and arms/hands covering your head. If you cannot get under the furniture, getting next to it is equally or more safe, e.g. A piece of furniture will take the initial blow of a ceiling caving in and create a safe zone (“triangle of life”) next to it.
- Move away from glass or windows and anything that can fall on you, such as bookshelves and lighting fixtures
- Stay in bed if you are there and cover your head with a pillow, although it is safer to roll off the bed next to it and duck and cover if there is a light fixture above your head
- Never go to the stairs or elevator
- Wood houses are flexible and safer than brick or concrete slab houses, since they move with earthquake movements and create voids after collapsing
- Stay inside until shaking has stopped; most injuries occur when people are moving to another location or running outside
- Using doorways and door frames as protection only works if they are loadbearing; they otherwise fall backward or collapse, leaving you exposed
If you are outside:
- Stay where you are
- Move only if you are near a building, streetlight or utility wires
- Ground movement is rarely the cause of injuries
If you are in a car:
- Stop or slow down if possible (it’ll feel like your tires are flattened when an earthquake is in progress)
- Stay where you are if there is no freeway ramp or road above you
- Get out of the car and crouch next to the car in a fetal position with your hands/arms covering your head if you are on a freeway with a ramp or road above you, e.g. The car will take the initial blow from the ramp/road falling from above, leaving you in a a position to survive instead of crushed to death
If you are trapped:
- Do not light a match, e.g. Gas leaks often occur after major earthquakes
- Do not move or kick up dust; wait for rescue crews to reach you
- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or breathe through your shirt
- Do not scream to avoid inhaling toxic materials; tap on something or use a whistle (if you had one in your emergency kit)
Common sense for all situations:
- Stay calm
- Don’t use your phone immediately after a disaster, e.g. Emergency services need the lines to reach the most serious cases
- Assist others with patience and understanding; if you are panicked yourself, at least don’t spread or escalate it
How well did you pay attention? Take a fun and educational interactive quiz by clicking here.
In the News
Photo from quake.wr.usgs.gov