Asia, Chengdu, China, Sichuan, Thoughts, Travel

My First Earthquake – Three Years On

I woke up in a panic last night convinced that Chengdu was having another earthquake. Actually, I was just having a weird dream and so went straight back to sleep. The weird thing was, I checked my Facebook “memories” this morning and was reminded that I experienced my first ever earthquake here in Chengdu, exactly three years ago today!

Luckily for us, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that happened three years ago didn’t affect many people in Chengdu too badly. The epicentre was in Lushan, Sichuan province. We were close enough to feel its effects, but not close enough to experience any real damage. Unfortunately, a total of nearly 200 people died in that same earthquake and many more were left injured.

Since moving to the 35th floor of a building, I’ve actually thought back to that day a lot. I remember being totally clueless about what to do. I remember looking out of my window and seeing buildings moving like jelly, yet I still managed to convince myself for a while that it was just super strong winds that had caused it!

Even now, everyone tells of different things that should be done in an earthquake. Some people told me to stand in between a door frame, some said hiding out in the bathroom was best (there’s a water supply in there). Of course, the best to do is evacuate the building asap and find an open space away from buildings asap (not as easy as it sounds living in a city like Chengdu!). I had before heard about hiding in the under stairs cupboard but, living in an apartment block, that wasn’t really an option.

I do know now though that using the lift is a big no no! That day, I took the lift down from our apartment on the 23rd floor (still unsure what had actually happened), our lifts were turned off soon after and I was later told that had an aftershock hit, the lift could have shaken and got jammed in the lift shaft! My flatmate at the time also stayed in the apartment and found time to have a shower before leaving – all the while I’d seen the flocks of people gathering outside and was trying (and failing) to reach his phone.

It’s time’s like that that it really hits how far away from home you are. Because earthquakes are extremely rare/virtually non-existent in the UK I’d previously had no reason to know what to do in case of an earthquake emergency. Fortunately, contacting home was pretty easy (even if my Mum had already typed out a very angry message about how I’d left an ambiguous Facebook status before messaging them – it turns out Mum typed this message before either of them had checked my Dad’s phone…).

Contacting home in an event like that is pretty important, of course. Especially as you don’t know how the media will report it. The headlines in the papers at home read “Sichuan Earthquake”. Sichuan is a huge place, so obviously each city in this province was affected differently. But how are family and friends at home supposed to know where you are in comparison?

Because taking photos isn’t my initial reaction to something like this, I don’t have any to share for this post. I did, however, look back to my old blog to read back on my thoughts of it at the time. I still remember it as though it was yesterday:

April 21, 2013 · by fishfood24 · in Chengdu, China. ·
It’s surprising how easy it is to become very blasé about living in China. I’m not ungrateful in the slightest, but China’s crazy ways have actually become seemingly normal to me now. Its nice to take a moment every now and then to really think about where I and what I’m doing.Yesterday was a good example. I don’t like routine, and my new job is definitely keeping me on my toes which is just what I need. However, I was still struggling to get ready at 8am to go to work on a Saturday. This was until I randomly started bouncing on my bed… alone. Thinking I was having a dizzy spell I initially got frustrated. Then I looked at my window and saw not only my curtains swaying but the whole building too. We live on the 23rd floor so, obviously, I then freaked out. I ran out my room, feeling a little bit like I was in one of those crazy houses with the moving floors to ask Kyle what the hell was going on!I was reluctant to believe this was an earthquake but was unsure of what else it could possibly be! After arriving at work I had it confirmed by my colleague that yes, what we felt was indeed an earthquake. What made me more nervous was I actually had no idea what I was supposed to do in that situation. We had regular fire drills at school and work but no indication of what to do in an earthquake.My first lesson of the day was conducted outside in a field as that was the safest place to be. I’m not one to complain. Feeling the aftershocks was pretty weird. A hard sensation to describe! It does go to show how different countries cope with different things. In England you only need to see a snowflake and the whole country goes into meltdown. In China, one hour after an earthquake I’m teaching English to a girl.

Chengdu actually hasn’t been affected by the earthquake. We felt it, but no damage done. It does seem a lot more serious in the epicentre though. I’ve been keeping up to date from this website: Sichuan Earthquake Update – China Daily

If there’s anything I’ve learnt from this, it’s that when no one is invincible to anything. If the Earth’s going to get you, it’s going to get you. Thankfully, I was safe, but my thoughts still go out to the people that were more affected by this than I was.

If you are away from home and experience something similar I’d definitely do the following:

1. Contact home asap.

Whether you think it’s a major event or not, if your family and friends find out about it before you contact them, they will worry. With it being the first earthquake I’d experienced, I had no idea how this compared to others and didn’t know how potentially serious it was when I read the news later.

2. Find out what disasters the country you are in is susceptible to, and find out what the safety measures are in such events.

I had no clue what to do in case of an earthquake. In school in the UK we had fire drills, and that was about it. If you don’t find out what to do before such an event occurs, then you should find out soon after. After this earthquake we felt several aftershocks, even in Chengdu. These aftershocks could still have caused damage.

Of course, I was lucky that I wasn’t affected much. But, if the situation is worse, remember your safety is most important. If something serious hits while away, get yourself to safety – rearrange travel plans or postpone a trip if necessary. Of course, if you are trained for such an event, there is most definitely the option to help out those in need.

3. Stay informed.

Trying to pass the earthquake off as “extremely strong winds” at first shows how completely clueless I was at the time, but after that happened I followed updates on the earthquake regularly. This way, if something bigger was on it’s way, I’d hopefully have known about it. There were several websites which gave live updates which I kept an eye on. If there’s no electricity, stay with other people. They might have their sources and, if not, safety in numbers!

4 . Don’t let it put you off.

Okay, I still think about that earthquake, and I know about a more serious one that hit Sichuan in 2008, yet I still live in Chengdu. It didn’t put me off staying here, starting university here, or moving to another apartment in a building that’s higher than high here! It also won’t put me off visiting other countries. Don’t live in fear.

Have you got any tips for how to react to disasters when living abroad? Or a story from an experience you had when away from home? Share them below!

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