Natural disaster

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Ever year we are rudely reminded of our frailty in the face of natural disasters. Many such disasters are well within our memory and, try as much as we like, we can’t shake them off. A natural disaster is the consequence of a natural calamity caused by environmental factors which affects activities and environment and leads to financial, structural, and human losses. Certain natural hazards are related -earthquakes can result in a tsunami, drought can lead directly to famine and disease, and so on.

Contents

Common Natural Disasters

Some of the common natural disasters are listed below:

  • Earthquakes - result from a sudden release of stored energy that radiates seismic waves.
  • Lahar – similar to volcanic eruptions in which a large amount of material, including mud, rock and ash slide down the side of the volcano at a rapid pace.
  • Landslides – almost like an avalanche in which instead of snow rocks, trees, parts of houses, and anything else which may happen to be in the way, are swept up.
  • Volcanic eruptions - the point in which a volcano is active and releases its power. The eruptions come in many forms ranging from daily small eruptions to expulsions of at least 1,000 cubic kilometers of material
  • Floods – Prolonged rainfall from a storm, including thunderstorms, rapid melting of large amounts of snow, or rivers which swell from excess precipitation upstream and cause widespread damage to areas downstream.
  • Maelstrom - is a large tidal whirlpool
  • Tsunami – a wave of water created by the displacement of a body of water and can be caused by underground earthquakes.
  • Blizzard - A severe winter storm condition characterized by low temperatures, strong winds, and heavy blowing snow.
  • Hurricanes, tropical cyclone, typhoons - a cyclonic storm system that forms over the oceans.

Coping with Disaster

Natural disasters can occur at any time and they often leave tremendous psychological impacts on those affected, including stress reactions that present psychological, as well as physical symptoms. However, there are steps that individuals can take for themselves and their families to mitigate and lessen the psychosomatic impacts of a storm related natural disaster.

Understand disaster events

  • It is normal to be affected after experiencing a disaster
  • It is normal to be worried about the safety of your family, friends and yourself
  • It is normal to feel a profound sense of sadness, grief, and anger following such events
  • You will feel much better if you acknowledge your feelings.
  • Focus on your strengths and abilities.
  • Accept whatever help is forthcoming from community centers.
  • Everyone has different needs and different ways of coping.
  • It is common to feel vengeful

Try to spot signs of disaster related stress

When adults have the following signs, they might need crisis counseling or stress management assistance:

  • Difficulty at thought communication
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty maintaining balance in their lives
  • Low threshold of frustration
  • Increased use of drugs/alcohol
  • Limited attention span
  • Poor work performance
  • Headaches/stomach problems
  • Tunnel vision/muffled hearing
  • Colds or flu-like symptoms
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reluctance to leave home
  • Depression, sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Mood-swings and easy bouts of crying
  • Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt
  • Fear of crowds, strangers, or being alone

Easing Disaster-Related Stress

The following are ways to ease disaster-related stress:

  • Share your feelings - anger, sorrow, and other emotions – with others even if you find it difficult
  • Seek help from professional counselors specially those experienced in dealing with post-disaster stress
  • Remember that you are not responsible for the disastrous event. Don’t be frustrated because you feel you cannot help directly in the rescue work
  • Eat healthy, rest, exercise, relax, do meditation. These are some steps to promote your own physical and emotional healing
  • Maintain a normal family and daily routine, limiting demanding responsibilities on yourself and your family
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Participate in memorials
  • Use existing support groups of family, friends, and religious institutions
  • Ensure you are ready for future events by restocking your disaster supplies kits. Doing these positive actions can be comforting

Helping children

Tips for parents and caregivers to help children cope with the emotional toll of natural disasters:

  • Don’t let children see serious injuries and damage as much as possible. Shield them from media coverage
  • Monitor adult conversation in front of children
  • Tell children about the ways you are trying to help the community recover from the disaster
  • Let children help in the response to boost their sense of control
  • Be sympathetic to children's sense of loss over pets and special toys
  • Repeatedly reassure children that they are safe
  • Spend more time with children at bedtime, when they may be more anxious about separation and the unknown
  • Maintain daily routine and meet children’s expectations as much as possible

When Face to Face With Disasters

Disaster check list

When facing the prospect of any type of natural disaster, make sure you have the following disaster supplies on hand:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Non-perishable food and water.
  • Non-electric can opener
  • Essential medicines or prescription
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Durable shoes and appropriate change of clothing
  • Blankets, bedding, or sleeping bags

Hurricane Safety

Before a hurricane hits

  • Evacuation -- Plan an evacuation route. Obtain a community hurricane preparedness plan from the local emergency management office. This plan should include information on the safest evacuation routes and nearby shelters.
  • Family preparedness -- Make all family members aware about ways to respond after a hurricane. Teach family members how and when to turn off gas, electricity, and water. Teach children how and when to call the police, or fire department and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.
  • Pets -- Make arrangements for pets.
  • Protect your windows -- Permanent shutters are the best protection. A lower-cost approach is to put up plywood panels. Use 1/2 inch plywood—marine plywood is best—cut to fit each window. Remember to mark which board fits which window. Pre-drill holes every 18 inches for screws. Do this long before the storm.
  • Clear debris -- Trim back dead or weak branches from trees.
  • Communication plan -- In case family members are separated from one another during a disaster (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together. Ask an out-of-town relative or friend to serve as the "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.

When a hurricane hits

  • Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for official hurricane reports. Check emergency supplies. Fuel your car.
  • Bring in lawn furniture, toys, and garden tools, and anchor objects that cannot be brought inside.
  • Secure buildings by closing and boarding up windows. Remove outside antennas.
  • Turn refrigerator and freezer to coldest settings. Open only when absolutely necessary and close doors quickly.
  • Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs, bottles, and gather some cooking utensils.
  • Store valuables and personal papers in a waterproof container on the highest level of your home.
  • If officials indicate evacuation is necessary, secure your home by unplugging appliances, turning off electricity and the main water valve, and locking up your home. Then leave as soon as possible. Avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges.

Tornado Safety

Tornadoes are the most violent atmospheric phenomenon on the planet. Winds of 200-300 mph can occur with the most powerful tornadoes. When a tornado warning has been issued for your area or whenever a tornado hits, do the following:

  • In a home or small building -- Take protection in the basement or in an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom.
  • In a school, hospital, factory, or shopping center -- Remain crouched down or covered in the rooms on the lowest floor. Avoid glass enclosed places.
  • In a high-rise building -- Be indoor and avoid exterior walls or glassy areas.
  • In cars or mobile homes -- Cars and mobile homes are most risky during such times. If you are in one, abandon it immediately. .

Flood Safety

Flash floods and floods are the biggest weather-related killer with nearly 140 deaths recorded in the U.S each year. If there is the possibility of a When inside -- Move to higher grounds

If caught outdoors

  • Go to higher ground and avoid small rivers or streams, low spots, canyons, dry riverbeds, etc.
  • Do not try to walk even through ankle-deep flowing water
  • Do not allow children to play around streams, drainage ditches or viaducts, storm drains, or other flooded areas.
  • Do not drive through flooded area. Avoid even shallow water

Some of the Severest Natural Disasters in History

  • The October 8, 2005 earthquake in Pakistan claimed more than 40,000 victims
  • Sumatra-Andaman earthquake (the third largest ever recorded) / tsunami in late 2004 that is estimated to have claimed 275,000 lives.
  • 1995 Kobe earthquake damage estimated at more than $150 billion. Within the US (excluding earthquake-prone Alaska), neither the Los Angeles Quake (1994) nor even the great San Francisco event of 1906, were nearly as damaging.
  • Hurricane Katrina struck the vulnerable US Gulf Coast in August 2005 and brought the death count to over 1,000, which is serious but not remarkable for a major disaster. But together with extensive urban flooding that was a secondary effect, damage estimates from insurance costs alone are at $30 billion. This is easily the most expensive disaster ever to hit the US, eclipsing Andrew in 1992. From Andrew the death toll was 26, but the property damage added up to a staggering $25 billion.
  • The Nevado del Ruiz (Columbia) volcano in 1985 killed 25,000 people, most of them caught in a massive mudflow that poured down the stricken mountain. By comparison the Mount St. Helens eruption (1980) shattered the peak but had few victims.
  • The most devastating earthquake in modern times was the famous 1976 Tangshan magnitude 8 event in China, whose toll varies between the official 255,000, and a possible 655,000. This event truly began the modern era of intense seismic hazard monitoring in China and the West. Little is known of an earlier lethal earthquake that struck the Chinese city of Shaanzi in 1556. No magnitudes are quoted, and of course no recordings exist, but it is said to have taken the lives of 830,000 people.
  • The Tambora, Indonesia volcano of 1815, in which 80,000 people died of the subsequent famine; or the famous Krakatoa explosion, again in Indonesia, in 1883 in which more than 50,000 people perished.
  • New Madrid earthquake of 1811-12 in southern Missouri remain the largest earthquakes ever to hit the contiguous U.S. The main event is now estimated at a magnitude 7.8. Damage was relatively light due to the sparse population at that time in the Mid-West.
  • The event in 1737 that may have killed some 300,000 people around Calcutta, India, is now ascribed to a typhoon (the Asian equivalent of a hurricane) combined with massive flooding. This could be the most catastrophic atmospheric event ever recorded in terms of casualties.
  • Stroggli, an island in the Mediterranean Sea that literally blew up somewhere around 1500 B.C. Now known as Santorini, the volcanic explosion (and the undoubted associated tsunami) virtually eradicated the wonderful Minoan civilization. Plato himself clearly referred to Santorini as the site where the city of Atlantis disappeared under the waves.

Response of Women

Historically women have always been disproportionately affected by natural disasters. Yet they have time and again proven themselves indispensable when it comes to responding to disasters.

  • In Guatemala and Honduras after hurricane Mitch in 1998 women came out in great numbers to help in building houses, digging wells and ditches, hauling water and building shelters.

It has been seen that women are very good at mobilizing the community to respond to disasters. This proves vital for disaster preparedness and mitigation

  • After the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, Women maquiladoras in Mexico City organized themselves into the 19 de septiembre GarmentWorkers’ Union. The union, which was recognized by the Mexican government, worked successfully for the recovery of women’s employment.
  • Following Hurricane Joan, women in Mulukutú, Nicaragua, involved all households in developing disaster preparedness. The efforts helped Mulukutú recover faster than other similarly affected communities.

References

  • 10 'Worst' Natural Disasters
  • Coping with Disaster
  • Responding to Natural Disasters: Helping Children and Families
  • Coping With Disasters
  • GENDER AND NATURAL DISASTERS

Additional Information

  • Try the great Great Disasters Quiz and see how far you remember.
  • Visit Natural Disasters Websites for interesting pictures and write-ups of different forms of natural disasters
  • See various first-hand 'tsunami video recordings
  • Why Floods Occur
  • Fact Sheet on Natural Disaster Recovery: Fungi for information on how flood conditions contribute to the growth and transmission of many kinds of fungi, some of which can cause sickness