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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Natural disasters can strike at any time and without warning. And, they are often quite devastating, laying waste to property and human life. While there’s nothing much we can do about that, we can prepare ourselves for when calamity hits, says Gurjyot Kaur

Mother Nature is beautiful, but she can be cruel and devastating too. Despite all our scientific and technological advancements, sometimes there’s little we can do to stop natural phenomena from taking place. The disastrous flash floods in Uttarakhand in 2013, the major 2015 earthquake in Nepal and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami remind us how helpless we can be sometimes. What we can do, however, is prepare ourselves to deal with these types of events. So, here are a few ways in which you can identify a calamity and what you can do when it strikes.

Earthquakes are caused by the movement of tectonic plates (pieces of the earth’s crust) and when underground rock breaks suddenly under pressure. The actual earthquake lasts only for a short time, but it can still leave devastation in its wake, destroying houses, bringing down bridges, damaging property and taking lives.

There is a belief that animals can sense when an earthquake is about to occur. Animals that live underground, rats, moles and snakes, usually come out of their burrows when they feel the seismic waves that precede an earthquake. Even dogs and cats start behaving strangely before an earthquake hits.

Another sign that an earthquake is coming is a change in the ground water levels and temperature. From hot one day to freezing cold the next, sudden climate variation is a sign that an earthquake is on its way.

What to do
When an earthquake strikes, it is important to stay calm and not panic. If you are indoors, don’t attempt to rush out. Take cover under a desk, table, door frame or sturdy furniture. Stay away from the windows or glass objects, or any items that are likely to fall and which can trap you. Never use the elevator when there is an earthquake. Take the stairs instead. If you are outdoors, stay away from things like street lights, trees and buildings, which could fall due to the earthquake. If you are stuck under debris, don’t attempt to move as dangerous dust could get inside your lungs. Either tap on something or call out so that rescuers can locate you.

Of all the natural calamities, floods are the most common. Floods occur due to heavy rainfall and overflowing of rivers and dams. The huge amounts of water can be highly destructive. With its power and massive erosive force, a flood can carry away vehicles, houses, trees and even bridges, causing enormous loss of infrastructure and human life.

Intense rainfall, thunderstorm and rising levels of streams or creeks often precede floods. Intense rainfall can lead to the accumulation of water. In a city like ours, rising tides can exacerbate floods. Keeping an eye on the weather forecast and matching it up with a tide chart is a good way to tell whether there is a higher likelihood of floods.

What to do
If you receive any warning about an impending flood, the first thing you should do is move to higher ground. If possible, carry your important belongings with you. Avoid crossing any flooded areas, but if you get stuck in a car or any vehicle in a flood, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground. Your life is more important than your car.

Tsunami is a Japanese word that translates to high sea wave (literally “harbour wave”), and a tsunami is an unusually large sea wave caused by an earthquake out at sea or due to an undersea volcanic eruption. Tsunamis occur in coastal cities and towns and tsunami waves look like huge walls of water that move toward the shoreline.

A warning sign of a tsunami is an earthquake in a coastal city. A tsunami may be preceded by unusually energetic and high waves, which are much smaller than a tsunami, but much higher than regular tidal waves.

What to do
To avoid getting hit by a tsunami, get as far from the shoreline as you can. If you’re stuck in a building, try and get to a higher floor. If you’re on the ground, run away from the shore and towards safe and protected land. It’s best not to return to the coastal area until the tsunami threat is declared over.

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