Earthquakes

An earthquake is a sudden shaking of the earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth's surface.  Earthquakes can cause buildings and bridges to collapse, down telephone and power lines, and result in fires, explosions, and landslides.  Earthquakes can also cause huge ocean waves, called tsunamis, which travel long distances over water until they crash into coastal areas.

Earthquakes occur most often in states west of the Rocky Mountains, though violent earthquakes have occurred in the eastern U.S. as well.  Populations in at least 41 U.S. states or territories are at moderate to high risk.  Scientists cannot precisely predict when earthquakes will occur.  Earthquakes are measured on the Richter scale, a measurement system that measures the intensity and strength of an earthquake on a scale from 0 to 10.  The intensity of an earthquake doubles with each two-tenths of a unit on the Richter scale.  By this measure, a quake measuring 8.0 is roughly 1,000 times as strong as one measuring 6.0.

Preparation for an earthquake is the best method for minimizing injury or damage during one.  There will be no warning or time to move to protected areas once an earthquake begins.  Follow these important steps to protect yourself and your home for an earthquake:

  • Repair defective electrical wiring, leaky gas, and inflexible utility connections.  Bolt down water heaters and gas appliances.  Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.  Fasten shelves to walls.  Brace high and top-heavy objects.  Don't hang heavy objects over the bed.  Store bottled foods, glass, china and other breakables on low shelves or in cabinets that can fasten shut. Anchor overhead lighting fixtures.  Check and repair deep plaster cracks in ceilings and foundations.  Get expert advice, especially if there are signs of structural defects.  Be sure the house is firmly anchored to its foundation.
  • Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves.  Check with your local utilities for instructions.
  • Hold earthquake drills with your family.  Locate safe spots in each room- under a sturdy table or against an inside wall.  Reinforce this information by physically placing yourself and your family in these locations.  Identify danger zones in each room- near windows where glass can shatter or near bookcases or furniture that can fall over.  During an earthquake, each family member should move away from these danger zones to the nearest safe spot.
  • Gather emergency supplies and prepare for evacuation in case earthquake damage is severe.  Keep tools, flashlights, a portable radio, batteries, a First Aid kit, a fire extinguisher, fresh water, and non-perishable foods handy.
  • Develop a plan for reuniting your family after an earthquake.  Establish an out-of-state telephone contact for family members to call to let others know that they're okay.
  • Review your insurance policies.  Some damage may be covered even without specific earthquake insurance.  Protect important home and business papers.

In an earthquake, the most important thing to insure safety is to keep calm and stay where you are.  Most injuries during earthquakes occur when people are hit by falling objects when entering or exiting buildings.  If you are indoors, take cover under a sturdy desk, table, or bench and hold on.  Remember that everything will be shaking and the table you are under may walk across the floor.  If so, be ready to move with it.  If there is nothing to get under, brace yourself in a doorway or against an inside wall.  Stay away from windows, brick masonry (like fireplaces), bookcases, china cabinets, lighting fixtures, and mirrors.  Additionally, if you are in a high-rise building, stay in the same building on the same floor, as an evacuation may not be necessary.  Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms come on, and under no circumstances should you use elevators.

If you are outdoors, stay there.  Move away from buildings, street lights, trees, and utility wires.  In a moving vehicle, move away from overpasses, drive slowly to a non- traffic area, and stay in your vehicle.  Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses or utility wires.  Listen to the radio for information and watch for road and bridge damage.

After an earthquake, danger and injuries are still possibilities.  It is extremely important to keep the following information in mind:

  • Be prepared for aftershocks.  These secondary shock waves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures. 
  • Check for injured people and call for help if immediate assistance is required.  Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury.  If you must move them, first stabilize the neck and back.  If a victim is not breathing bit has good pupil reflex, carefully position them for artificial respiration, clear the airway, and commence mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Maintain body temperature with blankets, but be sure the victim does not become overheated.  Never try to feed liquids to an unconscious person.
  • If the electricity goes out, use flashlights or battery powered lanterns.  Do not use candles, matches or open flames indoors after the earthquake because of possible gas leaks. 
  • Check your home, especially roofs and chimneys, for structural damage.  The initial check should be made from a distance.  If you have any doubts about safety, have your home inspected by a professional before entering.  Wear sturdy shoes in areas covered with fallen debris and broken glass. 
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids inside buildings.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave the building.  Shut off the main gas valve outside, if you can.  Report the leak to the gas company from a neighbor's house.  Stay out of the building.  If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on. 
  • Visually inspect utility lines and appliances for damage.  If there is electrical damage, switch off all electrical power at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.  Use the phone only to report a life-threatening emergency.
  • If water or sewer pipes are damaged, shut off the water supply at the main valve.  Do not flush toilets.  If water is cut off, use water from the water heater. 
  • Open cabinets cautiously.  Beware of objects that can fall off shelves. 
  • Listen to news reports on a battery-powered radio for the latest emergency information. 
  • Stay off the streets.  If you must go out, watch for hazards created by the earthquake, such as fallen objects, downed electrical wires, weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks. 
  • Stay away from damaged areas, unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire or relief organizations. 
  • If you live near coastal waters, be aware of the possibility of tsunamis, also known as tidal waves. When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way and stay away from the beach.

For more information about earthquakes and how to recover from them, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department at 843-665-7255.

Floods

Local Flooding and Floodplains

Floods are the most common and widespread of all natural hazards.  Some floods develop over a period of days, but flash floods can result in raging waters in just a few minutes.  Flash floods carry a deadly cargo of rocks, mud, and other debris and can occur without any visible sign of rainfall.  Mudslides are another danger created by flooding.  Be aware of flood hazards, especially if you live in a low-lying area, near water, or downstream from a dam.  Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts,or dry streambeds that appear harmless in dry weather can flood.  Every region of every state is at risk from the hazards of flooding. 

It is important to know the terms used to describe flooding.  They are:

Flood Watch- Meteorological conditions make flooding likely.  Stay tuned to radio or television reports.

Flood Warning- Flooding is occurring or will occur soon.  Seek higher ground.

Flash Flood Watch- Meteorological conditions make flash flooding likely without any warning.

Flash Flood Warning- A flash flood is occurring.  Seek higher ground on foot immediately.

Urban and Small Stream Advisory- Flooding of small streams, streets, and low-lying areas is occurring.

Preparation for a flood is the best method for minimizing injury or damage during one.  There will be little time to move to protected areas once a flood is in the immediate vicinity.  Follow these important steps to prepare yourself and your family for a flood:

  • Learn the elevation level of your property and whether the land is flood-prone.  This will help you    know how your property will be affected when flood levels are forecasted.  Find out how to protect your home from flooding.  The Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department can provide information about these issues.  Call their office at 843-665-7255.
  • Purchase a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio with a battery backup and tone-alert feature.  A NOAA (pronounced "Noah") radio will automatically alert you when a Flood Watch or Warning has been issued.  Also purchase a battery-powered commercial radio and extra batteries as well.
  • When skies are threatening or a flood watch has been issued for the Florence area, listen to NOAA radio or local radio or television newscasts for the latest information and special instructions from local officials.
  • Learn community flood evacuation routes and how to find higher ground.  Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.  Keep your car fueled and in good condition in case evacuation is required.
  • Talk to your family about flooding.  Plan a place to meet your family in case you are separated.  Determine the needs of family members or neighbors who may need your help during a flood.  Choose an out-of-state contact for everyone to call to say they are okay.
  • Gather emergency supplies and have them on hand in case a flood approaches.  Keep tools, flashlights, a portable radio, batteries, a First Aid kit, fresh water, and non-perishable foods handy.
  • Know how to shut off utilities.  Know where gas pilots, water mains, and circuit breakers are located and how the heating and air-conditioning system works.
  • Consider purchasing flood insurance.  Flood losses are not covered under homeowners' insurance policies.  Flood insurance is available in most communities from the National Flood Insurance Program.  There is usually a five-day waiting period before it takes effect.  Flood insurance is available whether the building is in or out of the identified flood-prone area.

If a flood is threatening the Florence area, the most important thing to do is listen for information and instructions on radio or television newscasts or NOAA Radio.  If there is any possibility of a flash flood occurring, gather your family and emergency supplies and move immediately to higher ground.  Do not wait for instructions to move.

If you have time, bring outdoor garden equipment and lawn furniture inside or tie it down.  Move essential items to the upper floors of your house.  If instructed, turn off utilities at the main switches or valves.  Disconnect electrical appliances, but do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.

Do not stack sandbags against the outside walls of your house.  Water suddenly seeping downward can create pressure, causing your basement to "float" out of the ground.  In fact, when deep flooding is likely, permit the flood waters to flow freely into the basement of your home (or flood the basement yourself with clean water, if you are sure it will be flooded anyway).  This will avoid structural damage to the foundation and the house by equalizing the water pressure on the outside of the basement walls and floors.

When evacuating, follow instructions as to where to go and the routes you should take.  Be sure that your car is fueled and you have emergency supplies with you.  If you have time, tell others where you are going.  Leave immediately to avoid being marooned by flooded roads and fallen trees, especially if you live in low-lying or flood-prone areas.  Stay away from flood waters, which can be contaminated.  Do not walk through moving water.  Six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.  If you must walk in a flooded area, walk where the water is not moving.  Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.

Do not drive into flooded areas.  If flood waters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground, if you can do so safely.  You and your vehicle can be quickly swept away as flood waters rise.  In all cases, listen to the radio or television for information about the flood and what you should do.

After a flood, danger and injury are still possibilities.  It is extremely important to keep the following information and safety standards in mind:

  • If you evacuated the community or are in a safe location, stay where you are until local authorities say that it is safe to leave.  Stay tuned to local radio or television stations for information such as caring for your family, finding medical help, or applying for financial assistance.
  • Talk with your children about what has happened and how they can help during the recovery.  Being involved will help them deal with the situation.  Consider the needs of your neighbors.
  • Stay away from disaster areas unless local authorities request volunteers.  If you are needed, bring you own drinking water, food, and sleeping gear.  Another way to help is to donate money to a recognized disaster relief organization.  Do not donate food, clothing, or other personal items unless they are specifically requested.
  • Stay away from flood waters, river banks, and streams.  The water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage.  The water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.  Stay away from moving water.  Moving water only six inches deep can sweep you off your feet.  Be aware of areas where flood waters have receded.
    Drive only when necessary and be especially careful.  Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.  Stay away from downed power lines and report them to the power company.
  • Consider your family's health and safety needs.  Wash your hands frequently with soap and clean water if you come in contact with flood waters.  Thrown away food that has come in contact with flood waters.  Listen for news reports to learn whether the community's water supply is safe to drink.
  • Contact your insurance agent.  If your policy covers your situation, an adjuster will be assigned to visit your home.  Take photos or videotape of the damage.  Separate damaged and undamaged belongings.  Locate your financial records.  Keep detailed records of cleanup costs.
  • Check your home for structural damage before entering.  If you have any doubts about safety, have your home inspected by a professional before entering.  Wear sturdy shoes in areas covered with fallen debris and broken glass.
  • Do not turn on the electricity until the circuits have been checked by a qualified electrician.  Moisture may still be trapped within electrical boxes, receptacles, motors, and switches.  Use flashlights when inspecting the house.
  • Cover broken windows or holes in the roof to prevent further damage.  Dry wooden furniture out of direct sunlight.  Remove debris before it has a chance to dry.
  • Flooded basements should be drained and cleared after flood waters have subsided.  Pump water out of basements slowly, at a rate of 1/3 of the water per day, to avoid wall failures and permanent structural damage.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes are nature's most violent storms.  Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can uproot trees and buildings and turn harmless objects into deadly missiles.  They can devastate a neighborhood in seconds.  Tornadoes appear as rotating, funnel-shaped clouds that extend to the ground with swirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour.  Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.  Every state is at some risk from tornado hazards.

It is important to know the terms used to describe tornadoes and like threats.  They are:

Tornado Watch – meteorological conditions make the appearance of a tornado likely.  Stay tuned to radio or television reports.

Tornado Warning – a tornado has been sighted.  Take shelter immediately.

Severe Thunderstorm Watch – meteorological conditions make the appearance of severe thunderstorms and tornado-like conditions likely.  Stay tuned to radio or television reports.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning – severe thunderstorms and tornado-like conditions are occurring.  Take shelter immediately.

During a tornado, the most important thing to do is seek shelter, preferably in a predetermined safe area.  In a house or small building, this area is the basement or storm cellar.  If there is no basement, go to an interior room on the lower level – closets and interior hallways work well.  Be sure not to be directly under heavy appliances on an upper floor.  Once in place, get under a sturdy table, hold on, and protect your head.  Stay there until the danger has passed.  Always stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls.

In a school, nursing home, hospital, factory, or shopping center, go to a pre-designated shelter area.  Interior hallways on the lowest floor are usually safest.  Stay away from windows and open spaces.  In a high-rise building, go to a small, interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible.  In a vehicle, trailer, or mobile home, get out immediately and go to a more substantial structure.  If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert with your hands shielding your head.

After a tornado, danger and injury are still possibilities.  It is extremely important to keep the following information in mind:

  • Check for injured people and call for help if immediate assistance is required.  Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury.  If you must move them, first stabilize the neck and back.  If a victim is not breathing but has good pupil reflex, carefully position them for artificial respiration, clear the airway, and commence mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Maintain body temperature with blankets, but be sure the victim does not become overheated.  Never try to feed liquids to an unconscious person.
  • If the electricity goes out, use flashlights or battery powered lanterns.  Do not use candles, matches or open flames indoors after the tornado because of possible gas leaks.
  • Check your home, especially roofs and chimneys, for structural damage.  The initial check should be made from a distance.  If you have any doubts about safety, have your home inspected by a professional before entering.  Wear sturdy shoes in areas covered with fallen debris and broken glass.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline and other flammable liquids inside buildings.  If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave the building.  Shut off the main gas valve outside, if you can.  Report the leak to the gas company from a neighbor's house.  Stay out of the building.  If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on.
  • Visually inspect utility lines and appliances for damage.  If there is electrical damage, switch off all electrical power at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.  Use the phone only to report a life-threatening emergency.
  • If water or sewer pipes are damaged, shut off the water supply at the main valve.  Do not flush toilets.  If water is cut off, use water from the water heater.
  • Open cabinets cautiously.  Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
  • Listen to news reports on a battery-powered radio for the latest emergency information.
  • Stay off the streets.  If you must go out, watch for hazards created by the tornado, such as fallen objects, downed electrical wires, weakened walls, bridges, roads, and sidewalks.
  • Stay away from damaged areas, unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations.

For more information about tornadoes and how to recover from them, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness department at 843-662-7255.