Category Archives: Earthquakes

How To Help People After An Earthquake

Today, while preparing for Hurricane Irene, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast region of the United States. Unlike the hurricane, which weather forecasters provide minute by minute updates on predicted landfall, wind velocity, and even the amount of expected precipitation, the largest earthquake on the East Coast struck without warning. The nerves of millions of unprepared people were deeply shaken.

While property damage and bodily injury appears to have been relatively small, considering the size of the earthquake, people should be alert to others having a delayed sadness that impairs their ability to function as before. One such reaction is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, often characterized as having nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of people or things that remind them of the earthquake, feeling numb emotionally, or agitated.

Oftentimes these reactions are experienced acutely, and within a few days, people gradually feel secure again and return back to their normal routines. But some people are not so resilient. Those who have suffered other losses, such as a loss of a home to foreclosure, a bankruptcy, loss of a loved one to death, or are recently relocated (such as a move for a job or college), may be more vulnerable. Others, due to cultural inhibitions, may find themselves unable to turn to others for help. Many people reported that they initially thought the earthquake was a terror attack. People in swaying high rises had flashbacks of 9/11 and reported momentary feelings of terror and powerlessness.

So, in the aftermath of this earthquake, reach out to those you know who may be physically, socially or emotionally isolated. Encourage them to talk and express their feelings. A little intervention from a caring friend, family member or neighbor can mean the difference between a good and bad response to this earthquake in those who we care about.

Kindly share your experiences of how you coped, and what helped. Or, if you have suggestions for helping others.

Eileen Lenson