Earthquakes in Peru - Why? & What to do?

Earthquakes in Peru - Why? & What to do? Earthquakes in Peru - Why? & What to do?
A Common Occurrence in the Country

Earthquakes in Peru - Why? & What to do?
Earthquakes in Peru - Why? & What to do?

Earthquakes are among the most powerful and terrifying events on earth. Unfortunately for thousands of years they have been a common occurrence in Peru and the area of Lima. We never know when and where to expect the next earthquake, so be prepared and aware on what to do.

 Why Earthquakes occur in Peru?

Scientists have developed a theory, called plate tectonics, that explains why most earthquakes occur. According to this theory, Earth's outer shell consists of about 10 large, rigid plates and about 20 smaller ones. Each plate has a section of Earth's crust and a portion of thick layer of hot rock below the crust. The plates move slowly and continuously. They collide, move apart or slide past one another. These movements finally can cause earthquakes.

Peru is situated along the boundary of two tectonic plates: the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate. The interface between these two plates is located near the Peruvian coast. At a rate of about 50 mm per year the South American Plate is moving towards the Pacific Ocean over the Nazca Plate. That may not sound a lot but it is enough to put huge strain on the Earth's crust. The pressures are periodically released through earthquakes.

The subduction of the Nazca Plate caused millions of years ago the rise of the Andes Mountains, the creation of the Peru-Chile Trench and the volcanism in the Peruvian highlands. Until today this process continues and causes a number of geo-dynamic processes. The consequent results of a heavy earthquake striking the area are destruction, panic, fear, innocent casualties, poverty, hunger and diseases.

 What happens during an Earthquake?

No earthquake is like another. An earthquake can be shallow, intermediate or deep; according to its and your location. Anyhow most earthquakes in Peru are prefaced by a strange and unfamiliar noise that gets under your skin. Before you realize what's going on you feel the ground shaking. Depending on different factors the shocks can be felt like a swinging movement or more like fierce and rapid strokes. The ground shaking can last a few seconds up to various minutes. Out of personal experience any second during such an event passes by like in slow motion and you thinks it's never going to end.

When you are inside a building you will feel the swaying from one side to another, the up and down bouncing, the wild vibration and the violent moving. All objects not fixed proper will do the same and follow every movement. During earthquakes many people are injured by getting hit from loose household items. In a really heavy earthquake buildings may contract or expand, be shaken apart, collapse or even slide of their foundation when they are too weak or rigid to resist the strong forces. If you realize this type of structural distress it will be wise to leave for a safer place outside before you experience the house coming down on you.

Well now comes the bad one: In a city like Lima being outside during an earthquake can be quite dangerous, too. Take care of all kind of falling objects, like bricks, glass, whole walls, street and traffic lights, signs, telephone posts, and so on. Beware of ruptured power lines, gas leaks and spilled fuels. A lot of households in Lima cook with gas (either natural gas lines connected to the house or domestic gas cylinders). The risks of erupting fires and explosions way after an earthquake are high. Better look out where to smoke your relaxing cigarette...

If you are enjoying a day at the beach when an earthquake strikes, better rush to higher grounds. An earthquake on the ocean floor can create a tremendous push to surrounding seawater and create destructive waves called tsunamis (also known as seismic sea waves). Tsunamis may build up to heights of more than 30 meters when they reach shallow water near the shore line. They can travel great distances in no time while diminishing little in size and can flood coastal areas in seconds without warning. In 1746 shortly after a heavy earthquake hit Lima, a devastating tsunami rolled over the port of Callao and completely destroyed what was left from the city. Thousands died. Even after the strong earthquake in 2007 south of Lima, parts of the Costa Verde were badly flooded.

 What to do during an Earthquake?

An earthquake can never be predicted. There are no fixed pattern and no logic in where it hits and when. Because Peru lies in a seismic zone, you should at least know what to do when an earthquake strikes. Unfortunately there isn't any perfect guideline telling us, do this and that, and everything will be fine.

Today we have two quite different approaches on how to behave during an earthquake when being inside a building. The American Red Cross and the Peruvian National Institute of Seismology recommend "Drop, Cover and Hold on" while one of the most experienced rescue teams and disaster management organizations, the American Rescue Team International, recommends "The Triangle of Life". Either have their pros and cons.

Our recommendation: Read the following chapters and learn more about both methods. Use this knowledge accordingly to the situation and then decide for yourself what is right and logical.

General Recommendations

  • Stay calm, don't panic! You need a clear mind to react proper.
  • Don't scream or shout hysterically, everybody else will do that for you!
  • Don't run! Walk!
  • Don't use elevators!
  • Avoid using the stairs! They move different as the rest of the building and cause you to fall.
  • If you are in a crowded place far from an exit, look for a safe place away from the crowd! Being in the middle of a bunch of panicking people trying to get out of one door might harm you more than staying at a safe corner.

(A) If you are Indoors (Drop, Cover and Hold on - Method)

These are the recommendations of the American Red Cross and the Peruvian Institute of Seismology on how to behave during an earthquake if you are inside a building.

Drop-Cover-Hold-on Method

  • Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture and hold on until the shaking stops.
  • Move only a few steps to a nearby safe place.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it's safe to exit.
  • Stay away from windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall on you.
  • In high-rise buildings, expect the fire alarms and sprinklers to go off during a quake.
  • If you are in bed, stay there. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow.
  • Don't use the elevators.

(B) If you are Indoors (The Triangle of Life - Method)

Contrary to the above mentioned standard practices, Doug Copp, director and rescue chief of American Rescue Team International, recommends a controversial, but in our opinion fairly logic method of keeping safe during an earthquake while being inside a building. Doug Copp has worked in earthquake rescue operations around the world. He saw over and over again that survivors of heavy earthquakes were always found in some sort of hollow space next to large or bulky objects like cars, furniture, fridges, etc. Therefore his mission is to protect us from the standard recommendation "duck and cover". He says: "It is not the earthquake which kills you. Getting under a squashed desk or table kills you. You can survive by fleeing the building if you can get out the ground floor or getting into a survivable void, next to a large, bulky object". These even internationally more and more accepted recommendations are worth a closer look and may save your life!

Even the American Red Cross backed off a little from their standard recommendation: We contend that "Drop, Cover, and Hold On" indeed saved lives, not killed people. Because the research continues to demonstrate that, in the U.S., "Drop, Cover, and Hold On!" works, the American Red Cross remains behind that recommendation. It is the simplest, reliable, and easiest method to teach people, including children. What we are saying is that "Drop, Cover, and Hold On!" is not wrong - in the United States. The American Red Cross, being a U.S. based organization, does not extend its recommendations to apply in other countries. What works here may not work elsewhere, so there is no dispute that the "void identification method" or the "Triangle of Life" may indeed be the best thing to teach in other countries where the risk of building collapse, even in moderate earthquakes, is great.

Well and that is the point, we're not in the U.S. and the standards here in Peru are quite different...

So please read following methods of the Triangle of Life and then make up your mind:

  • Flee the building if you can get out quickly and safely.
  • If the above is not possible, drop to the ground, get in a fetal position and lie next to (not underneath) some sort of bulky object like a desk, sofa, fridge or even an elevator shaft (elevator shafts are considered to be one of the strongest structures in a high rise building).
  • If you are in a parking garage, get out of the car and lie next to it in a fetal position.
  • If you are in bed, roll onto the floor and lie next to the bed in a fetal position.

If you are Outside

  • Stay outside! Don't run back into buildings!
  • Move away from buildings, street lights, signs, walls!
  • Take care of all kind of falling objects!
  • Get away from ruptured power lines!
  • Walk calmly to the next safety area! You will find nearly everywhere either a sign with a big "S" or a yellow circle on the street with the capital letter "S". These areas are supposed to be safe.
  • In case you are directly at the beach, seek for higher grounds. A tsunami can flood coastal areas in seconds without warning.

If you are in a Moving Vehicle

  • Stop as quickly as possible and stay in the car.
  • Don't stop near or under buildings, big trees, wires, on or under bridges, in tunnels...
  • Once the earthquake has stopped, proceed cautiously. Watch out for debris, damaged roads and bridges.

  What to do after an Earthquake?

  • First of all calm down!
  • Then check yourself for injuries.
  • If you are unhurt, look around and help others.
  • Be prepared that telecommunication services won't work.
  • Ambulances and the fire brigade might not reach you due to damaged infrastructure or missing resources.
  • Expect aftershocks!
  • Enter buildings only after checking they are safe and with extreme caution!
  • Stay away from ruptured power lines, look out for water and gas leaks!
  • After destructive earthquake expect looting's.
  • Listen to a radio to be informed about the general situation

What to do after an Earthquake

In case the worst case scenario comes true and you are trapped, stay calm, as hard as it might be, don't lighten a match or lighter, try to draw attention to you, but don't waste your energy by uncontrolled screaming; better use any object to regularly make noise and only shout when you hear voices.

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