Coping With the Aftermath
“WE HAVE BEEN WALKING SINCE MORNING. WE ARE FLEEING FOR OUR LIVES. THERE IS NO DRINKING WATER, NO FOOD. ALL HOUSES ARE DESTRYOED.”—HARJIVAN, SURVIVOR OF A 7.9-MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE IN INDIA.
EXPERIENCING the fury of an earthquake is terrifying. “There were books flying all around me from an eight-foot-high wooden wardrobe beside my bed,” recalls a survivor of a 1999 quake in Taiwan. ‘A newly purchased motorcycle helmet found its way off the top of my wardrobe and landed beside my head on my bed. Ironically,’ she adds, ‘it could have killed me.’
Living through an earthquake is frightening, but surviving one is just the beginning. In the hours following the event, relief workers courageously strive to locate and treat those who are injured. Often, they do so under the threat of aftershocks. “We have to be extremely careful,” said one man who contemplated digging through a mountain of dirt that had buried a neighborhood after a recent quake in El Salvador. “If suddenly the ground moves again, the rest of this hill could go.”
Sometimes individuals demonstrate extraordinary self-sacrifice in reaching out to victims. For example, when a massive earthquake occurred in India early in 2001, Manu, an elderly man who now lives in the United States, returned to his homeland. “I must go,” he reasoned, “not just to help my family, but everyone who is suffering.” Manu found conditions to be deplorable in the regions he visited. Nevertheless, he noted: “The courage people show is astounding.” Wrote one journalist: “I don’t know anyone living around me who did not give whatever he or she could spare—a day’s, a week’s or a month’s salary, a portion of their savings or whatever they could do without to help.”
Of course, it is one thing to clear out the rubble and treat the injured; it is quite another to restore a sense of normalcy to lives that have been turned upside down by a few moments of terror. Consider Delores, a woman who lost her home in the quake in El Salvador. “This is worse than the war,” she says. “At least then we had a roof.”
As mentioned in our opening article, sometimes there is a great need not only for material aid but also for emotional support. For example, when an earthquake paralyzed the city of Armenia in western Colombia early in 1999, more than a thousand lost their lives, and many more were left in a state of shock and despair. Said psychiatrist Roberto Estefan, whose own apartment building was destroyed in the disaster: “Wherever you go, people are asking for help. I go out for a hamburger, and most of the people who say hello seize the moment to tell me about their insomnia and their sadness.”
As Dr. Estefan well knows, the emotional aftershocks of an earthquake can be devastating. One woman who volunteered to help construct a relief camp noted that some people who have jobs don’t bother to go to work because they believe that they will die soon.
Providing Hope Amid Despair
In times of such crisis, Jehovah’s Witnesses make efforts to help survivors not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. For example, immediately after the Colombia earthquake referred to earlier, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses there organized a local emergency committee. Thousands of Witness volunteers from all parts of the country donated food and money. Soon, some 70 tons of food was sent into the affected area.
Often, spiritual support is most crucial. One morning after the Colombia earthquake, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses noticed a particularly dejected-looking woman walking down a street in the devastated city of Armenia. She approached the woman and offered her a tract entitled What Hope for Dead Loved Ones? *
The woman took the tract home and read it carefully. The next time one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called at her door, she just had to tell her story. The earthquake, it turns out, had destroyed several homes that she owned in the city, which had provided her with a good income. Now she was in poverty. But that was not all. During the earthquake, the house in which she lived with her 25-year-old son had collapsed, killing him. The woman told the Witness at her door that she had never been interested in religion before but that she now had many questions. The tract had given her real hope. Soon a home Bible study was started.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are confident that there will be a time when mankind will no longer be threatened by natural disasters, including earthquakes. The following article will explain why.
^ par. 12 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Box on page 6]
▪ Make sure that water heaters are bolted down and that heavy objects are either on the floor or on lower shelves.
▪ Teach family members how to turn off electric power as well as gas and water.
▪ Equip your home with a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit.
▪ Keep a portable radio on hand with fresh batteries.
▪ Hold family drills, and emphasize the need to (1) stay calm, (2) turn off stoves and heaters, (3) stand in a doorway or get under a table or a desk, and (4) stay away from windows, mirrors, and chimneys.
[Box/Picture on page 7]
EARTHQUAKES IN ISRAEL
Israel has “the longest and most continuous historical record of earthquakes on the face of the earth,” writes Professor Amos Nur. The reason is that part of the Great Rift Valley—the fault line between the Mediterranean and the Arabian plates—courses right through Israel, from north to south.
Interestingly, some archaeologists believe that ancient engineers used a special technique to reduce earthquake damage. This coincides with the Bible’s description of Solomon’s building program: “As for the great courtyard, round about were three rows of hewn stone and a row of beams of cedarwood; and this also for the inner courtyard of the house of Jehovah, and for the porch of the house.” (1 Kings 6:36; 7:12) Evidence of this technique of integrating wooden beams into the stone construction has been found in various places—including a gate at Megiddo, thought to be from Solomon’s time or earlier. Scholar David M. Rohl believes that these beams may have been “inserted in an attempt to protect the structure from earthquake damage.”
Earthquake ruins in Bet Sheʼan, Israel
[Box/Pictures on page 8]
TWO MINUTES OF TERROR—ONE SURVIVOR’S ACCOUNT
In Ahmadabad, India, our family was preparing for my cousin’s wedding. On January 26, 2001, I was awakened, not by an alarm clock, but by violent shaking. I heard metal cabinets moving back and forth, and then I knew something was wrong. My uncle was shouting, “Get out of the house!” When we got outdoors, we could see the house shaking from side to side. It seemed to go on for an eternity. In reality, the tremors lasted just two minutes.
The stress seemed too much to handle all at once. We made sure that our family members were all right. Phone and electrical service were gone, so we couldn’t immediately determine the condition of our relatives in surrounding towns. After an hour of suspense, we found out that they were safe. Not everyone was as fortunate. In Ahmadabad, for example, over a hundred buildings fell, and more than 500 people lost their lives.
Everyone was struck with terror for several weeks. People went to sleep each night fearing that another quake would occur, as had been predicted. Restoration was slow, and many were left homeless. All of this because of an earthquake that lasted just two minutes but that will live on in our memories forever.—As told by Samir Saraiya.
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A survivor of the January 2001 earthquake in India holds a picture of his mother, who died and is being cremated
© Randolph Langenbach/UNESCO (www.conservationtech.com)