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What to Do If There’s an Earthquake When You’re Traveling

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Some of the world’s most popular travel destinations happen to be in earthquake-prone areas. New Zealand, for instance, just had a powerful 7.8-magnitude quake over the weekend, which, according to a recent article by CNN, resulted in aftershocks and tourists being evacuated from their hotels in the middle of the night. In the coastal town of Kaikoura, 1,200 tourists — as well as the town’s 2,000 residents — were left stranded after landslides closed all the roads in and out of town.

On the other side of the world, Italy also experienced a series of earthquakes last month, including a 6.6-magnitude tremor that CNN is calling the strongest quake to rock the region in more than 30 years.

In light of all this, here’s a nifty cheat sheet to keep handy so you can be prepared and stay safe just in case an earthquake suddenly happens while you’re traveling.

Before You Travel

  • Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). In case of a serious natural disaster or any other type of emergency, STEP enables local US embassies to communicate with you and can help you get in touch with your friends and family at home to let them know you’re safe.
  • Pack some extra cash and carry it with you. There’s always a chance earthquakes will disrupt electricity, phone lines and cell phone signals, meaning ATMs may not work where you are for a while.
  • Check the weather forecast. While earthquakes can’t usually be predicted, equally destructive weather events like blizzards and hurricanes often allow enough time for you to get out of harm’s way — if you know when it’s expected to hit.

During an Earthquake

  • Remember these three words: drop, cover and hold. Drop to your hands and knees to prevent injuries from falls when shaking makes standing difficult. Cover your head and neck with your arms or a pillow or by finding shelter under something strong that’ll block you from falling debris. Hold that position until the shaking stops.
  • If you’re outside: Move away from buildings, trees, power lines and anything else that could fall on you.
  • If you’re inside: Seek shelter under a sturdy table or, if that’s not possible, position yourself near an internal wall or in a corner away from any windows, furniture or decorations that could fall on and injure you. Contrary to popular belief, doorways are NOT good places to stand in during an earthquake.

After the Shaking Stops

  • Inspect your surroundings for any structural damage. If something looks unsafe, get out.
  • Always follow instructions from local officials, even if you think they are being overly cautious.
  • If you can, communicate with friends and family members who may be worried about you — an easy way to do this is by marking yourself as “Safe” on Facebook — but be aware that if electricity and cell phone signals are down, you might not be able to do so immediately.
  • Realize that police and other emergency services may have shifted priorities in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, so getting ahold of someone for unrelated help may take some time.
  • Be aware that tsunamis may occur in coastal areas, even if the shaking was only minor.

Bottom Line

While the majority of people who travel to earthquake-prone regions will experience — at most — only minor tremors, a stronger quake, while unlikely, can be very destructive, so it’s always a good idea to be prepared.

Image courtesy of Mark Mitchell /AFP via Getty Images.

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