Bam! The bathroom door slamming against the wall woke me out of a sound sleep. Groggily wending my way in the dark to the bathroom, I secured the door latch to make sure I would have no further interruptions of much-needed sleep. I then lumbered back into bed and started to drift off.
Not for long. My body, the bed and the whole bedroom began shaking. After a few confused and frightening seconds, I realized "Earthquake!" "Big one," I added, noting that the neighborhood dogs had joined in the weird sounds the hills around my house were making. Within moments I was out of bed and on my feet, contemplating leaving the house. "I'll wait," I comforted myself. "Even these big ones pass in a few seconds."
This one wouldn't. It kept coming; everything was shaking and trembling, rattling. I heard a pane of glass crash onto the floor. The walls of the house and the things attached to them seemed to heave, not just shudder. I then noticed that the street lights had failed and my heart was pounding harder than when I used to lift weights. I acknowledged my fear.
Realizing that there was no time to flee the house, I simply waited and waited. The nearly one-minute long temblor finally subsided, and my reasoning came back to me. All was well, or well enough. I walked unsteadily to another room and looked outside. A neighbor with a flashlight was checking on his and others' homes for damage.
I knew it had been a major quake, though not centered where I lived. The next day I learned that a 7.6 Richter-scale earthquake had devastated the lovely rural communities of central Taiwan. For the next few weeks, everyone's life was centered around the quake due to the constant media coverage and electricity rationing.
Taiwan is but one of many places situated along the "Ring of Fire" encircling nearly half the globe around the Pacific Ocean. Constant volcanic and earthquake action occurs here, sometimes with cataclysmic results. In this century alone, major earthquakes have taken more than one million lives. Many more have been injured and made homeless. The economic, social, and personal costs are immeasurable.
Over the past quarter century, many countries in earthquake-prone areas have begun to educate their citizens on how to take appropriate precautions for earthquakes. The following list has been compiled from experience.
Before the earthquake:
Prepare an "earthquake kit" near everyone's bed; these kits should include drinking water, a flashlight with fresh batteries, and dry food.
Place an extra pillow, blanket, or quilt near the bed to be placed over the head during the earthquake and for warmth if trapped afterwards.
During the earthquake:
If possible, get out of the building you are inside of and into a clear area.
If escape from a building is impossible, get away from windows and doors; try to find shelter under structural beams or under any heavy piece of furniture, like a large table or bed.
After the major earthquake (remember that aftershocks will occur):
When shaking ends or subsides, turn off gas lines.
Leave the building (never use elevators) quickly but not in a panic.
If uninjured, be ready to assist rescue workers with information or labor.
When a Big One happens, there is little anyone can do. The above contingency preparations, however, could make the difference between life and death.