Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
The above examples illustrate another basic
response during disaster, and that is the innate instinct
for survival. The 'miracle babies' of the 1985 Mexican
earthquake survived in the maternity ward of a
collapsed hospital for up to two weeks after the earth-
quake because their bodies went into a natural state of
hibernation that conserved fluids and energy. Victims -
some severely wounded - have been dug out of
collapsed mines, earthquake rubble, bombed buildings,
and avalanches after similar periods of incarceration.
Almost all survived because of a determination to live,
a feeling that it was too early to die, a feeling that there
was still more to be done in life. The Tarawera eruption
of 10 June 1886, in New Zealand, buried Maori villages
under more than 2 m of ash and mud, killing 156
people. A 100-year-old survivor, Tuhoto of the Arawa
tribe, was found alive and in good health after being
buried in his house for four days. He, in fact, told his
rescuers to go away because the gods were taking care
of him. He died ten days later under hospital care.
The girl trapped in the lahar mud in Columbia in
November 1985 met a similar fate. She remained
cheerful and survived for several days stuck in
the mud, only to die just before being pulled free. The
physical devastation greeting the first outsiders
to arrive in Darwin after Cyclone Tracy led many to
expect more than the 64 deaths that actually occurred.
Over 90 per cent of homes were totally destroyed and
many families endured Tracy completely exposed to
the elements. The small number of casualties under-
scores the ability of people to endure more hardship,
deprivation, undernourishment, and shock than is
normally believed possible. It is only after the event
that survivors must cope with the psychological trauma
that inevitably sets in.
Humans may simply be curious to see what is going
on during a disaster. This behavior is not to be
confused with sightseeing, which involves people who
have not experienced the disaster wanting to see what
has happened. For example, during the passage of the
eye of a hurricane, almost everyone wants to go outside
and look around. You and your family appear to be
uninjured, but you wonder, 'What does the house look
like, where's the dog, how are the neighbors doing?'
When a flood crest affects the Mississippi River system
in America, people who could be flooded are always
wandering down to the river to look at the river's
height. During eruptions, Mt Vesuvius has always
attracted local sightseers curious to find out what is
Resp onse during the event
Response during the event centers on the same four
areas focused on by people preparing for a disaster. It
is doubtful if anyone going through a tropical cyclone
will be worrying about the state of the American or
Australian economy. Almost all descriptions of human
behavior during a natural disaster refer to a lack of
panic. People may be scared but, in the face of adver-
sity, most remain outwardly calm. Hysteria is rarely dis-
played. In an extensive search of the literature, Drabek
(1986) could find no evidence that disasters generated
mass fear or panic. Generally, the media overtly
reinforced a panic myth by exaggerating incidents of
non-rational behavior. If panic exists, it usually repre-
sents a rapidly reinforced, collective response to flee
some very real threat; or panic occurs simply because
people in a rapidly developing disaster situation, such
as a fire, spend critical time confirming the threat, thus
leaving little time to flee.
It is a human instinct to try to protect one's family
during disaster. This instinct tends to override all fear.
One mechanism ensuring maximum protection is for
family members to remain close or huddled together
during life-threatening situations. Tropical cyclone
victims in Australia usually find themselves huddling
together for refuge in the toilet, because in new houses
this room is best designed to withstand high winds.
During Cyclone Tracy in 1974, huddling environments
were not always conducive to survival. One family who
had huddled together in bed in the main bedroom
found that they were exposed to the full force of the
storm as the house disintegrated around them. The
bed began to drift downwind across the floor towards
the edge of the house and came to rest only when one
of the legs fell through the floor. Earthquake victims
are often found huddled together in the crush of fallen
buildings. In miraculous situations, such closeness
often permits an adult to save a child. For instance, a
father, fleeing the debris flow of the Mt HuascarĂ¡n
earthquake in Yungay, Peru, in 1970, managed to
throw his two children up a slope to safety just as the
flow overtook and killed him. Following the Nevado
del Ruiz lahar of 1985 in Columbia, a child was found
trapped in a building in mud up to her neck, propped
up by her father who had suffocated to death.
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