The great thing about travel is that it comes with serendipitous surprises and unfamiliar experiences. But what if those unfamiliar experiences include natural disasters, ones that you are clueless about because you don’t live in earthquake country or near the ocean? Would you know what to do? The heartbreaking hurricanes and earthquakes that have been hammering the Caribbean, Mexico and United States lately are evidence enough that you need to know what to do if you are a traveler. Here are some tips to pack in your mind as you pack your bag.
Be aware of your surroundings and know the escape routes (yes, that’s the same advice as being aware of criminals and terrorism, but it’s easy to forget when you are marveling at the scenery). Knowing the lay of the land, which roads or paths will lead you out, and fully scoping out your hotel room (like where the windows, the door, furniture and emergency exit are) can save your life, especially if you have darkness to contend with along with an emergency.
Have some cash. You may need it for food, water, and transportation. Also have some basic first aid supplies.
Make sure friends or family know your itinerary. They may be able to help you from their end, but not if they have no clue where you were supposed to be.
Now for advice on specific natural disasters.
Unfortunately, you won’t know an earthquake is coming (although sometimes people have noticed that animals start acting weird, so they may know). Out of nowhere, you’ll feel shaking and rolling.
If you are inside, drop to your hands and knees under a sturdy piece of furniture. Cover your head and neck with one arm and a hand and hold on. This position keeps you from getting knocked down, protects your vital organs and to some extent, protects your neck and head. Stay away from windows if you can. Doorways are not stronger than other parts of the building, despite the age-old advice to stand in a doorway. Look for that sturdy piece of furniture, but if there isn’t one close by, just drop to your hands and knees and get into that protective position.
If you are outside, do not go inside or get underneath anything. Falling debris is your enemy.
Again, paying attention to your surroundings is key. If it’s raining heavily where you are, you may know there’s a chance it will flood, but sometimes heavy rains are some distance away and can move in your direction, causing sudden flooding.
If you are in a flooded area be aware of other possible dangers like downed power lines or displaced wildlife (no, not chipmunks or catfish, but snakes and alligators). If you are in a safe hotel room with the potential for flooding all around, fill bottles with clean drinking water from the sink and fill bathtubs and sinks with water that can be used for flushing the toilet.
North America is known for tornadoes, but there are other places in the world where they can occur. Usually tornadoes come with strong storms, like thunderstorms and hurricanes. Listen for possible announcements of tornado danger on the radio or TV. If you hear strong rushing sounds or see a funnel cloud, find shelter and stay away from windows. Basements, interior rooms, hallways in the center of a large building are all the best choices if you need to take shelter from an oncoming tornado.
With an approaching hurricane, it’s possible to know and you can try to evacuate or prepare for it. Knowing the evacuation routes and using them is the best choice. If you are unable to leave, gather food, water, batteries, candles and if possible, a weather radio (that may not be relevant in all parts of the world). Just like preparing for a flood, fill bottles with clean water for drinking and fill the bathtubs and sinks with water for flushing the toilet. Most importantly, if you were not able to evacuate, stay inside during the hurricane.
Again, knowing your escape route as soon as you arrive in a new location, is going to be your best defense. Your goal is to be at least 100 feet above sea level and/or 2 miles inland if there is a tsunami. Remember, you may need to know your way around even in the dark. Many areas have tsunami warning systems, so pay attention if you are on a beach vacation. If the water mysteriously rushes out from the coastline, don’t go and explore. What may follow is a tsunami. And if you are in a safe place, a tsunami does come, wait where you are to be sure there’s not a second one on the way.
Lastly, if you have more advice, let me know and I’ll pass it along (mail@EcoTripMatch.com). Some of you reading this may have just gotten through a natural disaster.
Terry Lawson Dunn, Founder