Survival Guide: Surviving Natural Disasters

Practical tips for overcoming flash floods, landslides, haze and more.
Thursday 24 September 2020
Practical tips like these could save your life should you find yourself caught up in a natural disaster. Photo: AFP

Geographically, Malaysians are a fortunate lot. Set outside the Pacific Ring of Fire, Malaysia is relatively free from severe crises that typically plague countries in the region such as the Philippines and Vietnam. That said, we’re not completely out of Mother Nature’s flighty sights. We’re no stranger to flash floods, landslides and most famously, the haze. Here are a few ways to survive various natural disasters.



Landslides are fairly common especially during the rainy season. Photo: AFP


You have several options if you find yourself in the path of a landslide. The first is to move aside, away from the path of Mother Nature’s cascading fury. However, that only works if the landslide is a slow-moving one. If it’s huge and fast, running is useless, and your best bet is to take shelter – not behind trees, though, easily uprooted as they are. If you can’t find shelter, curl up in a ball and protect your head. Cover yourself with a tarp if you happen to have one, and hope you don’t get buried alive. 



Woe betide should your car be caught in a flash flood. Photo: Unsplash


One doesn’t generally encounter massive floods in Malaysia. One does, however, encounter flash floods. They form quickly after hours of rain, leaving cars stranded and houses awash in water up to a metre deep; as such, surviving one involves both preparation and quick reaction. Building a disaster kit of essentials helps if you live in a flood-prone region. You can also buy flood insurance in case your house and furniture are damaged. If you’re caught outside in one, move to higher ground. Avoid driving or swimming through a flood; 15cm of moving water will knock you down, and 30cm of water will move vehicles. If you’re at home, disconnect all electrical appliances immediately and stay away from electrical equipment to avoid being electrocuted. 



Singapore and Malaysia get hit by the haze at least once a year. Photo: AFP


Broach the topic with anybody from Malaysia, Singapore or Indonesia, and you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of an impassioned rant on environmental irresponsibility and the greed of cost-cutting landowners. Whatever the cause, the problem has only gotten worse in recent years, driving people indoors, shutting down schools and boosting the sales of face masks everywhere. However, surviving the haze isn’t as simple as slapping on any old mask. You should take care that you’re using an N95 respirator: moulded, roomy masks that filter air much better than the surgical masks panicked laymen rush to buy. Stay indoors, drink plenty of water and wait for the whole thing to blow over.



Take shelter under something sturdy should you ever find yourself experiencing an earthquake. Photo: AFP


If you find yourself overseas and caught in a life-threatening earthquake like many did in Taiwan last year, it’s important that you react quickly and rationally. If you’re indoors, drop to the ground immediately and take shelter by an interior wall less likely to crumble, or under something sturdy like a desk. Stay away from glass doors and windows, which can and will shatter, and brace yourself until the danger passes. If you’re driving, pull over away from power lines, overpasses and light poles. Keep an ear on the radio for alerts once you start driving again, and be prepared to stop again in the event of an aftershock.



Get as far away as possible as you can in the event of a tsunami. Photo: Unsplash


If you’re in a tsunami area and an earthquake occurs, first protect yourself from the earthquake. Once the shaking stops, move immediately to a safe place as high and as far inland as possible. If you are outside of the tsunami hazard zone and receive a warning, then stay where you are unless officials tell you otherwise. Should you be caught in water, grab onto something that floats, such as a tree trunk or door (contrary to what Kate Winslet would have you believe, a floating door can accommodate two). If you’re in a boat, though, head out to sea in the direction of the waves, since the waves only reach their zenith once inland. 



Before an impending hurricane, which for the most part can be accurately forecast and prepared for, you’ll want to storm-proof your house. Board up your windows and fasten your roofs to strengthen your home. Trim the trees and shrubbery around to minimise the risk of broken branches knocking holes in your house. Prepare for flooding; keep your valuables on high shelves, move your furniture, and set up an emergency survival kit if you can’t evacuate in time. Evacuations are almost absolutely necessary should you live on the coast, in a mobile home (unless you like being tossed around like a salad in a box) or in a high-rise (storm winds are particularly powerful at high elevations).



California’s wildfires have been all over the news. Photo: AFP


The wildfires ravaging Australia, California and those that tore through the Amazon rainforest in 2019, are perhaps the starkest reminders humanity has right now of the shifting global climate. If you find yourself near a wildfire on foot, get to an area free of vegetation – in other words, kindling-free – and lie face down, cover your body and call 911. If you’re in your car, leave your car and run for safety. If you’re able to, park your car in a vegetation-free area, close all the vents and windows, cover yourself with a blanket or jacket, lie on the floor, and call 911.



Tornadoes – majestic but deadly. Photo: Unsplash


Tornadoes are perhaps one of the most visually striking natural disasters, their impressive features evoking the attention of “storm chasers” worldwide. However, they’re as deadly as they are dangerous, killing an average of 179 people in Bangladesh every year, the most in the world. If you get a warning of a tornado approaching, find shelter in a basement or an interior first-floor room of a sturdy building. Buildings in tornado-prone areas tend to have underground storm cellars. If you’re on the road, park your car far to the side of the road so as not to block emergency traffic and find a sturdy shelter, or get low in a ditch. 



This part of the world is particularly prone to tropical weather phenomena such as monsoon rains and heatwaves. Heatwaves are not short events that pass quickly; they can stretch over months, sapping both the body and spirit. As such, it’s important to keep one’s cool. Obvious measures include avoiding the sun, upping your water intake and switching on the air-conditioning. You should also avoid strenuous activity and exercise, as the weather will cause your body to heat much quicker than normal, straining its ability to cool itself safely, leading to possible heatstroke.


Volcanic Eruptions

Mount Sinabung in Indonesia is definitely an active one. Photo: AFP


If you live within range of an active volcano, you’re probably already very aware that they can erupt anytime without warning. Eruptions happen quickly and suddenly, and if the lava doesn’t kill you, the suffocating ash and smoke will. As such, the only way to survive a volcanic eruption is through sheer preparation. Memorise evacuation routes, keep abreast of emergency alert systems, create evacuation plans, and prepare a bug-out bag: a kit containing your basic essentials, including food and clothes.