Here’s what you should do when a natural disaster happens while you’re traveling

hanism
By hanism October 5, 2017
Reading Time: 6 minutes

We know that natural disasters are the last thing you want to think about when you’re traveling, but as we all know, anything can happen, and being prepared could be the very thing that saves your life.

To help you get ready for any eventuality, we’ve compiled a checklist of things you should do before and while you travel, including what to do when the place you’re visiting is affected by a specific natural disaster:

What to do before/while traveling

Research the best time to go. For example, avoid visiting a country during its hurricane or flood season.

Get the latest news updates. Make sure you’re aware of the situation in the country you’re headed to before you travel, especially when it comes to alerts of impending natural disasters.

Before leaving for your trip, if you come to be aware of a situation at your destination that may put your safety at risk, contact your airline and hotel for what you can do in terms of rescheduling or cancelling.

Buy travel insurance. This will help cover any financial losses you may incur because of a natural disaster, but make sure you compare a few beforehand and read the fine print of your policy.

Memorize the phone numbers of family members. If you lose your mobile phone, make sure you can recall at least one family member’s number so you can get in touch as soon as possible.

When you’re told to evacuate, do so immediately. Grab the essentials, like your mobile phone, cash, and passport, but leave everything else.

Contact your country’s embassy/high commission. When a natural disaster strikes or is imminent and you’re in a foreign country, reach out to them, as they may be organizing the evacuation of citizens out of the country.

If the country you’re in uses a foreign language, learn a few words like “Emergency”, “Help”, or “I don’t understand”. Your best bet is to have a phrasebook with you.

Always travel with a few portable power chargers or power packs that are pre-charged and don’t require power outlets.

What to do in the event of…

Mt. Sinabung

Mt. Sinabung in North Sumatra, Indonesia as it erupts.

Volcano eruption

If you’re within the danger zone, evacuate at once to a shelter in the safe zone.

Even when you’re outside the immediate danger zone, you’re still at risk of exposure to volcanic ash, poisonous gases, and flying rocks, so seek shelter indoors and close all doors, windows, and ventilation.

  • Avoid valleys or low-lying areas, particularly rivers downstream of the volcano.
  • Use goggles and wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses.
  • Wear a dust mask or hold a damp cloth over your face to help with breathing.
  • Keep as much of your skin covered as possible by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Listen to a local station on a portable, battery-operated radio or television for updated emergency information and instructions.

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Earthquake aftermath

A building collapsed on vehicles after the earthquake and pedestrians examine the resulting damage. Source: Brina L. Bunt / Shutterstock.com

Earthquake

If you are indoors during an earthquake, follow these 3 steps: DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors, and walls, and anything that could collapse or shatter, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

Don’t use a doorframe unless you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorframe and it is close to you. Many inside doorframes are lightly constructed and do not offer protection.

Stay inside until the tremors stop and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during an earthquake. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

Don’t use elevators, as the tremors may cause them to malfunction.

If you are outside, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires and stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls.

If you’re in a moving vehicle, stop someplace safe and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.

Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If you get trapped under any debris, don’t move around too much or kick up dust.

Cover your mouth with cloth, like a handkerchief or clothing.

Don’t light a match or lighter.

Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if you have one on you. Shout only as a last resort, as shouting can cause you to inhale dust.

*****

Tsunami sign

Tsunami

After an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, keep up-to-date with information from local authorities, such as tsunami advisories or warnings.

Know the signs: prior to a tsunami, waters will recede from the coast and expose the ocean floor, reefs and fish; an approaching tsunami creates a loud “roaring” sound similar to that of a train or jet aircraft.

 

Stay away from beach and coastal areas, and quickly move to high ground or inland. If you can see the wave, then you are too close to escape it.

Prepare an escape route (if your accommodation doesn’t have one, then plan your own). Make sure it can get you at least 30 meters above sea level or 2-3 kilometers inland.

If a tsunami is triggered, get away immediately – don’t wait for official evacuation orders. Take an emergency radio with you if possible, especially a battery-powered one, if you have it.

Wait until the “all clear” announcement, as a tsunami wave is usually followed by other potentially larger ones.

*****

Flood

A heavy flooding situation in urban Sakon Nakhon, Thailand. Source: 2p2play / Shutterstock.com

Flood

If there’s heavy, persistent rain in your area, stay updated on potential flooding situations.

Evacuate if necessary, or at least move to higher ground and stay put until a rescue team comes along.

If you’re in a car, don’t attempt to cross through high waters, as cars can be swept away by as little as 18 to 24 inches of moving water; trucks and SUVs by 24 to 32 inches. Even a mere six inches of water can disable many vehicles and leave you stranded.

Don’t drive over a bridge above fast-moving floodwaters, as its foundation may have become unstable.

Don’t walk through fast-moving water. You can easily be swept away, as flood currents can be stronger than they appear.

Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. Electrical current travels through water and downed power lines are a significant hazard in a flood.

Watch out for small animals and reptiles like snakes or crocodiles, particularly if you’re near forests or swamps. They’re likely to be agitated (making them more susceptible to attacking you) and they may seek shelter where you are.

Stay alert for gas leaks and carbon monoxide exhaust. Generators and other gas-powered machines may be used after a flood for a number of reasons. Carbon monoxide has no smell. Ensure that the air you are breathing is as safe as possible (open a window) and don’t light a match if you smell gas.

If you do come in contact with floodwater, be aware that it’s not the cleanest water and wash yourself thoroughly with soap and clean water as soon as possible. That goes for your clothes and shoes as well. Clean everything that gets wet because flood water can contain sewage, chemicals, and other dangerous particles.

*****

Hurricane

Hurricane

If a hurricane is expected to hit your location, act quickly to evacuate if you can and follow the evacuation directions of the local authorities. You should evacuate at least 24 hours before the storm comes.

If you’re flying out, call your airline as soon as you can to secure a seat on the next available flight. If no seats are available or if the flight isn’t until the next day, you may want to consider buying a one-way ticket back home on another airline.

If you’re unable to leave, contact your family members and inform them where you are. Update them only when necessary, as you’ll want to conserve your phone’s battery.

If where you’re staying is on the beach or nearby, find somewhere else to stay that’s further inland, as there’s a higher possibility of flooding when you’re near the coast.

If you’re evacuated to a shelter, be sure to bring your identification, valuable papers and medications in their original containers.

Stock up on a flashlight with extra batteries, blankets, pillows, and plenty of water and food.

Have cards/games/books on hand to keep the boredom at bay.

Remain indoors until an official “all clear” is given.
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Natural disasters may happen, but how we get through it depends on how well-prepared we are. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t discourage you from traveling – our Easy Reschedule feature allows you to manage your bookings should your plans change, so book your next trip on Traveloka!