[NOTE: This article is adapted from When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival]
Shelly and Phil Rodgers were in their home in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains when the Loma Prieta quake struck. The epicenter was about seven miles from their home. The house shook violently and all of their cupboards opened, throwing every dish, jar, can, bookcase, television, and appliance to the floor. Phil said that the house floors undulated like a snake, appearing to change elevation by more than a foot in different parts of the house as the quake shook through. They were not able to leave the house until the earth stopped moving. Because their car keys and shoes were still inside, Phil had to brave the aftershocks and wade through broken glass to retrieve keys and shoes so they could attempt the drive to town to pick up their kids. He brought a chainsaw with him, which was needed to cut large limbs that had fallen across the road.
On their way to town, they passed the spot where a neighbor’s house should have been. It had been built on tall pylons overlooking the hillside. When the quake struck, it slid off the piers and down the canyon. The two occupants on the first floor managed to crawl out the door moments before it took off, but their son, who was sleeping on the second floor, went for the wildest ride of his life. He miraculously rode through it uninjured, as the first floor disintegrated and the roof split away and to the side. Another friend had a home that lacked proper shear wall nailing and adequate attachment to the foundation. This home slid off the foundation and was a total loss, receiving the “bulldozer remodeling job.”
What to Expect When an Earthquake Strikes
In the aftermath of a major earthquake, the public utilities usually fail, and fires tend to break out due to broken gas mains and lack of water. Most government workers are either injured themselves, or at home caring for family members. If the earthquake is a significant one, with widespread damage and casualties, in all likelihood you will be on your own for several days or more. In this case, medical attention for the wounded and rescue efforts for those trapped under debris will be the first priority, with water second, followed by shelter and food.