Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Malaysians Need To Know About Earthquakes

Short note: The aftershocks had gotten less frequent since last night, but just when we were planning to return to our room to sleep tonight, a couple of aftershock hit us again. Guess we will continue camping at the lounge tonight until things get really stable.

There are some people out there, especially Malaysians ought to know about earthquakes.

I was called upon to blog on this topic after seeing the responses I got from posting messages about the huge earthquake in Christchurch last Saturday. Most of the messages sounded more like making fun of the situation, as if it's something funny and nothing serious. I understand that their messages were made probably because they were meant to calm us down and make us less panic, but I don't think it helps at all during such stressing situation.

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The very first update I did on my Facebook wall after I got back the Internet connection several hours after the earthquake struck.

Well, I didn't expect such replies when I posted up that update, to be honest. When you are going through an anxious situation, while getting a series of aftershocks after the huge earthquake, reading through such messages certainly doesn't do much help.

I however, do not blame them entirely for making such remarks. They probably haven't gone through such traumatic incident in their life before. I know some people out there might curse me for saying this, and I do not hope it to happen either. However, once they have gone through the real thing, I believe they will understand the situation better. Instead of taking the take-it-easy kind of alternative, they would turn to doing something else; say, sending supportive message or reminding us on things to look out for during such situation.

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That's exactly what happened to Mich because all this while, I've been telling her my experiences going through earthquakes - big ones, minor ones, medium ones in Japan. Although she had never made fun of it, at least now she seemed to understand it better on how it feels after going through the huge earthquake last Saturday.

I was Skyping with my aunt the other day and one of her first comments when I told her about the quake was that, "Woah, you bring the earthquake from Japan all the way to New Zealand arh?" My Mom said the same thing to me when I was Skyping with her just now.

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I mean, well, maybe they were only joking and I might be over-sensitive for feeling uneasy about their remarks because anyway, I do not blame her on that. Mich was chatting with another old friend of hers one night and that friend commented that what's up with all the furore and fear when there's no death reported from this earthquake. Well, the number of casualties doesn't necessarily represent how severe an earthquake is.

On 12 January 2010, a 7.0 quake hit Haiti, and 230,000 people died. Last Saturday,  a 7.1 quake hit Christchurch, and the number of death was amazingly, zero. Looking at it in purely geological terms, there are a lot of eerie similarities between the quakes in Haiti and Christchurch. Both involved strike-slip faults, meaning most of the shaking was side to side. Both were shallow, which is usually a bad sign for earthquake damage (13 km for Haiti, 10 km for Christchurch). Both were close to major population centers (40 km from Port-au-Prince in Haiti, 56 km from Christchurch in New Zealand).

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The main difference is however, that New Zealand has a lot of experience with earthquakes, and they have good construction codes to make sure that their buildings withstand a strong earthquake. The other main reason why the casualties were so great in Haiti, and so few in New Zealand, had to do with the time of day. Haiti's 7.0 event came at 4:53 p.m., when lots of people were out in the streets of the city. New Zealand's came at 4:35 a.m., when most folks were home in bed (reference).

Like I have mentioned, one have to experience it them self until they understand how it feels to go through an earthquake. One may argue that Malaysia has earthquakes too; take for example the Sumatran earthquakes that is often felt in the Klang Valley and Penang. But the difference is that the epicenter of those quakes is located quite a distance away and they are nothing much compared to the major ones that can do damage to buildings and cause major injuries and even deaths.

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Here are some old and new stuff about earthquakes that I've learned and I guess worth sharing with people out there, especially those who live in areas high-risk to natural disaster like earthquakes.
  1. Before I came to New Zealand, I thought the country is safe from earthquakes, mainly because I have never read any news about such disaster hitting this part of the world. On the first day I reached Christchurch, I noticed most of the buildings and houses were one-story structures and I asked Mich if the country is prone to earthquakes. She said no, and so I thought. But I was so dead wrong. Not gonna talk much about tectonic plates, but I supposed we should be grateful that Malaysia is not located in between any two plates, where earthquakes and volcanic activities are most likely to happen.
  2. There might be ways to predict tsunami and once it's predicted, tsunami warning is usually issued a few hours before it hit a certain location. However, there is still no scientific way to make earthquake predictions to a specific day or month. In folklore though, some animals have been identified as being more able to predict earthquakes than others, especially dogs, cats, chickens, horses, toads and other smaller animals. It has been postulated that the reported animal behavior before an earthquake is simply their response to an increase in low-frequency electromagnetic signals.
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  4. If you are living in a country prone to earthquake, an emergency kit is important. I know most of us take this for granted, including myself. I have been through a couple of huge earthquake and I have never bothered to prepare a kit until today. The kit should be able to last you for at least three days and placed in easily accessible location. The most important thing is water, and other stuff includes food, light source, radio, blanket, first aid kit, personal care and hygiene items. Click here for a detailed list.
  5. When an earthquake strikes, the first and safest thing to do is the DCH method. Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and hold on until the shaking stops. Some suggests to take cover under the doorway, but there is a possibility that the sway from the quake might cause the doorway to crumble and hit us; hence it is not recommended to hide under the doorway. Do not run out from the house as falling glasses and hard objects could hit us (reference).
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  7. If the frequency and magnitude of the aftershocks are unpredictable and abnormal, for example they keep coming every hour or so just like the one I am going through in Christchurch, there is a possibility that the house will come down. So, always keep the windows and doors open. If the doorframe or window frame gets crooked from the collapsing house, you will never be able to open them to escape. If it is winter, do not wear thin layers to sleep; wear what you wear to go outside. If the house is down, you won't find your clothes in that rubble. Sleep near the exit path if you can. Avoid sleeping next to windows or under the ceiling fan. If situation requires you to run outside, protect your head and face from the shattering glass (advices from Kok Hong).
  8. It is perfectly normal to experience stress reactions to a major event as the earthquake. While each person's response will be individual there are a number of common responses listed below. These reactions should gradually decrease over time. They are not a sign of "not coping" but are part of the coping.
    •    A preoccupation with the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks
    •    Anxiety symptoms (eg. racing heart, rapid breathing and trembling)
    •    Increased emotionality including irritability, sadness or grief and/or numbing of emotions
    •    Sleep disturbance with/without dreams or nightmares
    •    Survivor guilt
    •    Recalling of past traumatic events
    •    Difficulty with concentration
    •    Difficulty making decisions
    •    Grief
    •    Preoccupation with safety
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  10. Some suggestions to deal with stress are as follow:
    •    Maintain contact with friends and family
    •    Share your responses and concerns with friends/family
    •    Do practical things to help yourself and others
    •    Exercise
    •    Use coping strategies that have most helped you in the past
    •    Get back to normal activities when you can
    •    Remind yourself it is quite normal to feel worried about aftershocks
    (reference: Medical Education Unit, Christchurch School of Medicine)
I guess it has been a long entry but hopefully, it gives a better picture about earthquake. Personally, I feel we should be glad that Malaysia is generally safe from any major natural disaster like earthquakes, tsunami, tornado, and volcano eruptions. 
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    While people in Christchurch are being hit by earthquake, people in Pakistan and Victoria, Australia are suffering from big flood, Pacific typhoon hitting China and Taiwan, tropical storm hitting Texas and Oklahoma, volcanic eruptions in North Sumatra, we are facing some problems back in Malaysia as well. The interesting part is that we aren't fighting against any natural disasters, but racism, which is mainly created by a certain quarter of people that I find it very childish and immature. Hopefully, this people will wake up quickly from all these nonsense.

    I also take this opportunity to wish all my Muslim friends, teachers, associates and whoever you are, Salam Aidilfitri! To those who are travelling, drive carefully and may you all reach your respective kampung safely.

    7 comments:

    mg said...

    Well written post.. :)

    Zzzyun said...

    yeah i agree! now i know better what to do...if i ever do encounter one! *touch wood*

    kae vin said...

    hey when I posted that I didn't know it was that serious.

    and I didn't make fun of the situation alright? :(

    calvin said...

    @ mg:
    most of the info were taken from elsewhere though xD

    calvin said...

    @ zzzyun:
    of course we all do not want and hope that something unfortunate like an earthquake to happen to us, but we can never be certain, can we?

    i understand most of us often take this topic for granted, including myself, but when the real thing happened to us, that is the time we become clueless and not knowing what to do.

    that's what happened to a few malaysians here in christchurch whom i heard were too shocked and were down to tears right after the earthquake struck because they have never experienced something like this.

    i believe it's always better to be safe than sorry.

    calvin said...

    @ kae vin:
    don't worry, take it easy. i wasn't angry or mad at you guys, because you guys should be given the benefit of the doubt =)

    and no, you didn't make fun of the situation at all ;)

    Anonymous said... said...

    Hi...I'm one of your blog's reader...and i really love most of your writings...

    most Malaysian never experienced such casualties...and maybe that's why they didn't even making a fuss out of it...for me...whatever kind of casualties happen in anywhere even if it not involve major injuries or deaths, shouldn't be making fun of...

    thankfully you had had the experienced before in japan...making you more prepared...i pray for your safety...

    Salam Aidilfitri... ;)