What to Do if You Experience a Natural Disaster While Abroad

A natural disaster can happen anytime and if it's a sudden emergency, how do you prepare? It’s one thing to see one on TV or in a movie. But, what about when you’re travelling abroad? What do you do when you’re in the middle of a sudden earthquake or a massive tornado? How you react and the steps you take can save your life.

To help you prepare for a natural disaster when travelling abroad, here are a few ways to stay safe.

What To Do Before and During Travel Abroad

Check the News and Weather Alerts for the Area

For starters, research the country you’re planning to visit. Read the latest news about the area and view the weather forecasts before you leave on your trip. News alerts can help you know what to pack for any severe weather events. As an example, if an area is prone to flooding, you’ll pack your rain gear. Or, plan to buy it abroad.

If you’re travelling to the U.S., check the area for hurricanes and tornadoes. Oklahoma was hit by a record 191 tornadoes in the last month, 25 of which occurred in about 24-hours. These are record events that have led to casualties, catastrophic floods and the collapse of homes and roadways. Hence, know the situation in an area before you visit it. So, what do you do if you hear that the area you’re visiting is experiencing severe weather? Your next step is to contact the airline and your hotel.

Check the Airlines and Hotels in the Area

When you contact your airline and hotel, they’ll already know about the severe weather incident. The airline may have cancelled all flights and offered to rebook your tickets at a later travel date. The hotel may allow you to cancel your reservation without being penalized. But, what if they don’t? What if there’s only a severe weather threat and flights aren’t cancelled or your hotel won’t allow you to reschedule. That’s where travel insurance can help.

Purchase Travel Insurance Before Your Trip

Travel insurance is a safeguard whether you’re travelling out of your province, territory or somewhere abroad. It can protect you against financial losses if you need to cancel a trip due to a natural disaster, for sickness or other reason. When you buy your travel insurance, compare quotes so you can find the best rates.

Pack an Emergency Waterproof Bag

Your emergency waterproof bag can be a small bag that fits over your shoulder.

In it include:

  • Your emergency contact numbers.
  • Your current medications and a list of medications you’re on.
  • A note that indicates what allergies you have any medical conditions you have. Often this is called an ICE List which is an acronym for In Case of Emergency. (Update it before each trip).
  • Cash and a major credit card.
  • Your passport.
  • A language phrasebook.
  • Your phone, power cord and a backup battery that doesn’t need charging.
  • A tiny bottle of water, nuts and a protein bar or two. A few candies and mints.
  • A lightweight portable radio with a hand-crank and flashlight attached.
  • A small first aid kit.
  • A whistle.

If you do travel to an area that’s prone to severe weather events, carry a handwritten list with your family’s phone numbers. Some say to memorize the numbers, but in a panic, you might forget. If you can’t find or lose your phone, you’ll still be able to contact everyone. And, depending on the weather, phone service might be affected. If something happens to you, your ICE list will let medical assistance or the Red Cross know about any medical conditions and allergies you have. And, any medication you are on.

As an example, when Hurricane Maria hit Florida in the U.S., a severe flood affected a man’s home. He was so shocked by the rising water, he had a sudden heart attack. In another example, residents told to evacuate the Florida Keys refused. The police told them to write their social security numbers on their arms for identification purposes. Hence, travelling during severe weather can be dangerous and sometimes deadly.

If You Have to Evacuate

When travelling and a severe weather event occurs, sometimes there’s no warning. If your hotel states you have to suddenly evacuate, do it immediately. Get your emergency bag and leave everything else. You can store valuables and computers in a safe if there’s time and you’re concerned about looters.

Find the Embassy, Consulate or High Commission

When you evacuate, if you can’t get back to your hotel due to a severe weather event, alert the embassy or high commission in your home country. You can reach out to them if you’re in a foreign city as they may help with evacuations for all residents to their home country.

Have a Language Phrasebook

In some countries, language can be a barrier. But, don’t rely on your phone in a severe weather incident as tower service might be affected. You should download a language translation app on your phone. But, also carry a small phrasebook with you and know basic words like “Help”,  “Emergency” and “Do you speak [English, French, Spanish]”.

What to Do If a Sudden Emergency Natural Disaster Occurs Like…

An Earthquake

A sudden earthquake can occur in any country. If you’re inside, follow the drop, cover and hold on rules:

  • Drop to the floor.
  • Take cover. Cover your head and get under a big table or other furniture.
  • Hold in place until the ground stops shaking.

Inside: 

  • Avoid windows as the glass might shatter and stay from outside as walls can collapse. Take caution if you’re near light fixtures or items that can fall from shelves.
  • Avoid door frames as these aren’t always strongly made.
  • Stay inside as there can be aftershocks that might be stronger. And, people have gotten hurt attempting to evacuate after an earthquake.
  • Never use an elevator as the power might go out.

Outside:

  • If you have to evacuate, avoid buildings that can collapse. Take caution near streetlights and utility poles as wires might come down and can cause sudden shock.
  • If you’re driving when an earthquake occurs, pull over but don’t stop near utility wires, overpasses, buildings or trees.
  • Take caution with bridges and ramps that might be unstable.

If you’re trapped under debris and can’t get out:

  • Don’t move around a lot as you’ll kick up dust and it can affect your breathing.
  • Try to put your shirt over your mouth so you can breathe through it.
  • Never light matches after an earthquake as gas might be leaking.
  • Tap on pipes so emergency responders can find you. S.O.S. in Morse code is three long taps, three short taps and three long taps.
  • Only shout if you have your shirt over your mouth as you’re inhaling the dust.

A Severe Flood

Heavy rain can quickly turn into a severe flood. If you need to evacuate, get to higher ground.

In vehicles:

If you’re in a vehicle, don’t try to drive over bridges or high moving water. Vehicles have been swept away in two or three feet of water. It only takes a little water to disable your vehicle.

If you're walking: 

If you’re walking, get out of the water and find high ground. Flood water can become contaminated so if you have cuts or scrapes on your legs, stay out of the flood water. It can contain chemicals and bacteria. Power lines can suddenly come down.

Watch for wildlife

Depending on the area, watch for wildlife. Parts of South America are prone to crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles. Parts of the U.S. have large shark sightings. Even wildlife like raccoons or foxes can become agitated during severe weather as they’re forced from their homes.

With generators

If the power goes out after a flood, keep generators away from the home where you are staying or visiting and not in the garage. Generators can emit carbon monoxide which is an odorless gas. Hence, generators need to be a safe distance from where you’re staying. Don’t light matches if you smell gas which smells like rotten eggs.

A Sudden Hurricane

Hurricanes are usually predictable and meteorologists can track them. But, not always. If a sudden hurricane hits, you might have to evacuate. Bring your emergency bag with you. If you don't have to evacuate and receive a hurricane warning, you may have time to prepare. Stock up on water, any medication you need, batteries and food like peanut butter and crackers.

If you're on low-lying ground near the beach

If you’re staying near a beach, move away from the location and try to find shelter on higher ground. Waves can cause sudden flooding to homes near beaches.

If you're on higher ground and don't have to evacuate

If the location is on higher ground and you don't have a mandatory evacuation, stay indoors. Looting can sometimes occur after severe weather when residents have evacuated their homes. Another reason to ensure you have home insurance.

Check flights and alert family

If you’re trying to fly back to Canada, check with the airline. They might have a seat that opens.

Let your family know where you are located. Charge your phone and then conserve your phone battery if the power goes out.

Keep a flashlight with you and don't use candles to avoid fires.

A Tsunami

If there’s an earthquake, a tsunami might occur. These are huge tidal waves that shift and are caused by an earthquake. Listen for tsunami warnings directly after an earthquake.

Tsunami signs:

If you’re near a body of water, the tide will recede suddenly and you’ll see the ocean floor and fish. Birds might start suddenly flying together overhead. A tsunami sounds like a huge jet taking off. But, if an earthquake occurs, do not stay near the water. You have to get to high ground immediately.

The steps are:

  • Drop, take cover and hold (during the earthquake).
  • Take your emergency bag and get to high ground after the earthquake (but avoid buildings and power lines). If you see waves or you are eye level with the waves, you have to go higher.
  • Stay on high ground if waters continue to rise. Try to get two or three kilometers inland or about thirty meters above the level of the sea. Listen on your radio for the announcement stating it’s safe to return to homes. Don’t assume that after a tsunami passes its safe. There can be more than one.

A Volcanic Eruption

If you’re in Hawaii or Indonesia, a volcano can erupt. Check if you’re in a danger zone and then evacuate to a shelter that’s located in designated safe zones. Once in a safe zone, take caution. You’re still in areas where you can be exposed to ash from the volcano, poisonous gas and flying hot lava rocks or debris. Take shelter inside and keep windows and doors closed.

  • Stay away from a low-lying area or valley and avoid any waterways like a river that’s downstream from the volcanic eruption.
  • Wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses because of the ash and dust sediment.
  • Use a damp cloth over your mouth when breathing or put on a dust mask if these are available.
  • Check the news on TV or portable radio for announcements and instructions.

Ready to Find the Best Travel Insurance Rates?

When you're preparing to travel abroad, read the forecasts and know the weather conditions first. You can prepare for a sudden emergency, natural disaster or sudden evacuation. Bring your emergency bag with you and make sure it includes a portable radio. Listen for instructions from medical personnel, the police or the Red Cross. And, always purchase travel insurance before your trip. It can cover the unexpected (delays, cancellations, baggage loss). If you need help with insurance or if you have questions, contact Kanetix.ca.

With Kanetix.ca, you can compare health insurance rates from the leading insurance providers in Canada (and stay safe while you're away). Compare quotes today!