How not to react to an earthquake

“They tell you what you should do in an earthquake. But they never tell you what you should do if it happens while you are in the toilet” (An astute comment from a sixth grade student).

Last Saturday I experienced my very first Istanbul earthquake. No scratch that, my very first PROPER earthquake. As in one caused by living in a seismically active area, on a plate boundary on a huge scary fault-line (my native England of course being nowhere near anything like that).

As you may or may not know Istanbul is expecting  the ‘Big One’. Being located on the North Antolian Fault Line as it is and suffering an earthquake every century it is an inevitability. We won’t know when until it happens although it is expected to occur within the next 20 years.

The whole time I have been here I have managed to lull myself into a false sense of security, the close your eyes and pretend it won’t happen kind. That is until that fateful day when the very fabric of my relatively stable and peaceful life was ripped apart by the very ground I walk on. Is there anywhere I will feel safe anymore? Home has always been my sanctuary, my safe zone. Now it is the scene of the crime. Somewhere I now sit recalling the memory of literally being shaken out of my blissfully ignorant reverie.

On this fateful occasion, two Saturday’s ago I happened to be enjoying an extended shower. Being the weekend and all I was singing and dancing to myself, joyful at the prospect of not having to rush out of the almost boiling, awakening, skin pelting shower sensation (I am a bit of a shower masochist, I like it overly hot and powerful).

‘Don’t worry, about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright”.

In the midst of my Bob Marley, Three Little Birds rendition (always my song of choice for the weekend) and washing conditioner out of my hair I began to feel like the shower was moving. Believing it to be a heat induced hallucination I endeavored to turn the shower off to prove my folly/make sure I was not going mad.

When the cold air of reality (more pronounced after an overly long shower) revealed that the shaking was in fact real, thoughts of the Big One flashed through my mind as I slowly came to terms with what was happening.  I ran out of the shower, sopping wet and completely naked, greeted by the horrified face of my partner.  In panic mode my reflexes went for the front door as I made a dash for it. I recalled reading about being trapped inside the house due to earthquake door frame manipulation as I yanked open the door. I was of course still completly naked..

‘What are you doing! Put something on!! Hurry!!”

Oh dear. I hastily grabbed my coat and attempted to force my sopping wet arms through the allotted holes. Alas! In my haste I had managed to put the thing on upside down. Doh! Try again!! After a struggle (the fabric of the thing not wanting to let me out and then back in again) I zipped my naked body up into its meagre, thigh skimming cocoon and made a run for it down the stairs, to be met by fellow terrified (yet slightly bemused looking) residents.

It is not hard to identify the various mistakes I made, my emergency reaction almost causing an impending disaster of the not so natural kind.

Number one…. make sure you have clothes on before you try to run out of the front door in order to protect ones dignity. Earthquake or no.

Number two… in the event of an earthquake do not run down the stairs!! It may seem like a good idea but it is much more dangerous than staying indoors. No matter how frightening (and how much more intense) it may feel up on the eighth floor.

Number three.. easier said than done but resist the instinct to panic. A person was killed in this earthquake through panic alone. They jumped from their balcony to escape their building.

Number four… standing about in a coat clearly fresh out of the shower with sopping wet hair and no shoes is no fun…especially in a foreign country in which a) you cannot explain yourself and b) a girl showing skin attracts attention. The looks and laughs you get are well deserved… Do not go out of your way to look like a crazy Yabanci (foreigner).

It turns out the earthquake was not the ‘Big One’, although it was in fact a 6.9 on the richter scale. With the epicenter near Canakkale it was pretty big and pretty close. Showering will never be the same again..

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7 thoughts on “How not to react to an earthquake

  1. I shouldn’t laugh but you certainly put a picture in my mind. I would personally never shower in Istanbul with the threat of ‘the big one’ always looming overhead. I would take my chances with deodorant and wet wipes lol!

    Actually scratch that I will be in Istanbul in 5 days (but I will have a shower before I arrive).

  2. yikes! i am from southern california and have experienced one of the biggest earthquakes in all of north america in the mid 1990s–so earthquake preparedness is basically part of my k-12 education but it seems my education is short. high rises in so cal are a rarity–so i have to ask is the elevator preferable to stairs? what if you live in a 20-story building?? you might have to wait?? istanbul is so scary because of all the high-rise residence, and i have to wonder about their building codes.

    • wow at least you have experience of a ‘big one’, although I do think America is well versed in earthquake preparedness. There seems to be none here, I work at a school and the children are not told what to do if one were to go off!! I think thats crazy! It is advised never to use elevators in an earthquake as they may cause the electricity to cut out for an indefinite amount of time causing you to be trapped inside….
      They always say you should wait until the shaking stops to make a run for it down the stairs, but instinct caused me to go for it as soon as I felt it. I also wonder about the building codes, the buildings go up so fast here its anyones guess if they follow regulations… Although it is some consolation to know that high rise buildings are apparently better at withstanding earthquakes!! Also they say that anything built after the 1999 earthquake in Istanbul should follow the new government earthquake regulations….

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