All of Aotearoa New Zealand is at risk of earthquakes, and the aftershocks that can follow them and continue for some time. Quakes have the potential to cause disruption, damage to property, injuries, and even fatalities. A serious earthquake can also cause all kinds of personal reactions, practical needs, financial consequences, and ongoing challenges.
Most people find experiencing a serious earthquake traumatic – extremely stressful and frightening. It can be difficult to even believe what’s happening. A lot can happen and change very fast.
The amount of physical damage can vary, from minimal harm done to the total loss of a home or business property. Serious quakes are unpredictable many homes and properties in the same community can be affected.
If the quake is serious and requires evacuation, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management will activate the National Crisis Management Centre to be ready to support all regions affected by an earthquake.
Drop, Cover and Hold.
This protective action helps stop you being knocked over or hit by something falling.
The National Emergency Management Agency’s Get Ready team advises that you:
- Do not run outside or you risk getting hit by falling bricks and glass.
- If you are near the coast remember, Long or Strong, Get Gone.
- Drop, Cover and Hold until the shaking is over.
- If the earthquake lasts longer than a minute or is strong enough to make it difficult to stand, move quickly to the nearest high ground or as far inland as you can out of tsunami evacuation zones.
- Find out more about how to protect yourself from a tsunami.
- If you are outside, move no more than a few steps away from buildings, trees, streetlights and power lines, then Drop, Cover and Hold.
- If you are in an elevator, Drop, Cover and Hold. When the shaking stops, try and get out at the nearest floor if you can safely do so.
- If you are driving, pull over to a clear location, stop and stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops. Once the shaking stops, proceed with caution and avoid bridges or ramps as they may be damaged.
- If you are in bed, stay in bed and pull the sheets and blankets over you and use your pillow to protect your head and neck. You are less likely to be injured if you stay in bed.
- If you use a cane, Drop, Cover and Hold or sit on a chair, bed, etc. and cover your head and neck with both hands. Keep your cane near you so you can use it when the shaking stops.
- If you use a walker or wheelchair, Lock, Cover and Hold. LOCK your wheels (if applicable). If using a walker carefully get as low as possible. Bend over and COVER your head and neck as best you can. Then HOLD on until the shaking stops.
Translated information about earthquakes
This information, in a range of languages, can be found at the end of this government Get Ready page.
Remember, if the earthquake has been long or strong, get gone. As soon as the shaking stops, move immediately to the nearest high ground or as far inland as you can out of tsunami evacuation zones.
Don’t wait for an official tsunami warning.
You can read more about what to do during a tsunami or when a tsunami warning is issued here.
Then try to stay informed. Listen to the radio or follow your Civil Defence Emergency Management Group online.
The National Emergency Management Agency’s Get Ready team advises that you:
- Check yourself and others for injuries and get first aid if necessary.
- Do not run outside. It is frightening to stay in a building immediately after an earthquake, but it is much safer than going outside. An earthquake is not like a fire. You do not have to evacuate a building straight away unless it is showing obvious signs of distress, or you are in a tsunami evacuation zone.
- Look quickly for damage around you. Particularly in buildings where furniture and fittings may have become hazardous.
- Look for small fires and, if possible and safe to do so, extinguish them.
- Turn of water, electricity and gas if advised to. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window, get everyone out quickly and turn off the gas if you can.
- If you see sparks, broken wires or evidence of electrical system damage, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box if it is safe to do so.
- If you can, put on protective clothing that covers your arms and legs, and sturdy footwear. This is to protect yourself from injury by broken objects.
- If you are in a store, unfamiliar commercial building or on public transport, follow the instructions of those in charge.
- Expect more shaking. Each time you feel earthquake shaking, Drop, Cover and Hold. More shaking can happen minutes, days, weeks, months and even years following an earthquake.
- Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and stay out of damaged areas.
- Use social media or text messages instead of calling to keep phone lines clear for emergency calls.
- Keep control of your pets. Protect them from hazards and protect other people from your animals.
- If your property is damaged:
- Do not do anything that puts your safety at risk or causes more damage to your property.
- Contact your insurance company as soon as possible.
- If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your contents insurance company.
- Take photos of any damage. It will help speed up assessments of your claims.
- Stay informed. Listen to the radio or follow your Civil Defence Emergency Management Group online.
- Check on your neighbours and anyone who might need your help.
Food safety after a disaster
For more about food safety after a serious earthquake, see here.
Give yourself time to recover after this traumatic experience
See the sections below for some common reactions that people often have after a serious earthquake and ideas for coping with them.
To get ready for any future earthquakes, The National Emergency Management Agency’s Get Ready team advises that you work out what supplies you might need and make a plan together with those who you live with.
Practise Drop, Cover and Hold at least twice a year. You can do this when the clocks change or daylight saving perhaps. It's important to practise the right action to take so that when a real earthquake happens, you know what to do.
Identify safe spaces to Drop, Cover and Hold.
- Somewhere close to you, no more than a few steps away, to avoid injury from flying debris.
- Under a strong table. Hold on to the table legs to keep it from moving away from you.
- Next to an interior wall. Stay away from windows that can shatter and cause injury and tall furniture that can fall on you. Protect your head and neck with your arms.
- Not in a doorway. In most homes, doorways are not stronger than any other part of a house and a swinging door can cause more injury.
Visit the Earthquake Commission's Be Prepared website for more information on making your home safer.
Make a plan online with your whānau to get through an emergency.
Work out what supplies you might need here.
Check out the NZ earthquake preparedness guide in Te Reo Māori here.
The aftermath of a serious quake is unpredictable and difficult for everyone affected. The practical and emotional challenges of coping when the quake happened, seeing if people are okay, dealing with any ongoing aftershocks, dealing with the damage, coping with the disruption to normal life and work, possibly evacuating and relocating, and then restoring or rebuilding can all be huge. If there have been injuries or fatalities involved, of people and/or pets, the impact is understandably much, much greater.
Everyone’s different and will react in their own way. Many find that an earthquake is a traumatic experience. So much can be happening. It can be disorienting and hard to take in. There can be a lot to cope with. As the extent of the earthquake’s damage and its consequences start to become clearer, reactions can vary from person to person.
Emotions are often strong after a traumatic quake. People will often first experience shock and disbelief. There can then be immediate distress and fear. Many will also be anxious about the quake’s impact on others they know. Most people start to remain on alert and jumpy, in case there’s another quake. Emotions often come all at once, such as fear and anxiety, frustration, anger, tearfulness, sadness, and grief, and helplessness. Some people may have moments of feeling very overwhelmed. Overall, emotions can continue to be up and down for some time.
If injury or deaths have been avoided, there is usually relief and gratitude. However, in contrast, if people or pets are missing, or they have been seriously hurt or killed, it’s an especially tragic time of loss, sorrow, and grief.
Physically people can have a range of other reactions, such as difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, body tensions and aches, shakiness, a tight chest, breathing problems, stomach and digestion problems, or headaches, or fatigue and exhaustion. You possibly may also have injuries you need to attend to and recover from. Existing health conditions may worsen.
Mentally people might be distracted, unable to concentrate on other things, or be forgetful. It can be harder to think clearly. Even making decision might be harder for a while. You may find you have disturbing images or memories that keep coming into your mind or have ongoing nightmares or flashbacks (reliving what happened). Other mental health challenges might develop, such as acute anxiety, panic attacks, or depression. You may try to avoid certain places or things that trigger difficult memories.
Socially you might want to be near other people more – or need more time on your own. For those experiencing increased anxiety, or having responsibility for others’ wellbeing, staying near family and friends more may become especially important for a time.
Life can feel unfair, and you may find yourself thinking about some big life questions. It may be hard to make sense of what happened, especially if people close to you have been injured or died in the earthquake. As you try to make sense of what’s happened, you may find yourself asking why questions, such as Why did this happen? People also often have lots of ‘if-only’ questions going round and round in their minds. Some people may blame themselves or others for not responding as they would have liked. The world you knew before can suddenly be turned upside down. It can feel more unsafe and uncertain. The future can suddenly look different.
Later on, certain sights, sounds, smells, sensations, or feelings can remind people of the quake/s. These can bring new waves of emotion and distress with them. Reminders could be, for example, an emergency vehicle speeding by, aftershocks, coverage of the quake on the news, the smell of discarded rubbish, or photos of the house before the quake. Some people can also find they have vivid ongoing dreams or nightmares, or they may experience distressing flashbacks to what happened, as if it’s happening to them all over again. See our info sheet on dealing with flashbacks.
These kinds of reactions are all normal after a traumatic experience.
However they might not feel normal, and they might affect you and others more, and for longer, than you probably expect. See tips below for coping with the impact of your reactions.
If children or young people have been affected by the quake
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.
If someone you love has died in the earthquake
Please see our sudden death support information here.
Recovering after any intense, traumatic event often takes longer than most of us expect. Our overall health and emotional wellbeing can be affected. Gradually the intensity of your reactions is likely to lessen, and your sense of safety, security, and comfort can slowly be regained. Life can move forward once again, but recovery will take time.
It can really help when families, whānau, friends, and neighbours make themselves available to support each other. After an earthquake, neighbours and people in a community will often team up to support each other and to later clean and clear debris and damage. It can be an experience that helps people build a genuine bond together, as they get to know each other and offer support in a unique way. Many people find such shared support encouraging and helpful.
Ask for the help you need
Many people are around who want to help and will help. They just need to know what to do that will be most helpful right now.
You can also call Victim Support 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker who can help you find local support options.
If anyone has died as a result of the earthquake
The loss of a loved one can be a huge shock and the grief that follows can be very hard. Please see our sudden death support information here.
Looking after yourself is very important
In the aftermath of an earthquake we can easily forget that taking care of ourselves is one of the best things we can do – both for ourselves and for any others relying on us. Take things one day at a time. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help. Remember what positive actions have worked for you before and do those things. Use your inner resilience. Encourage others who have been affected to look after themselves too.
Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk to those you trust about what happened. It could be to a trusted member of your family, whānau, friend, doctor, counsellor, respected elder, rangatira, or a Victim Support worker. If any aspects of your story are particularly disturbing, speak to a professional. Talking honestly about how things are can help you release some of the stress and emotional tension that’s built up inside.
After a traumatic experience, a flashback feels like you’re back in the middle of what happened or reliving some aspect of it. This can be in vivid detail. During a flashback it can be difficult and confusing to connect back to the present and to what is real. To better understand flashbacks and ways to manage them, see our information sheet Dealing with Flashbacks.
More tips for coping with your reactions
To understand more about trauma and grief, and to find some ways to cope with your reactions, please see:
If your reactions trouble you
If you have concerns, see your doctor, a counsellor, a psychologist, or ask a Support Worker about help that is available to you. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.
- Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, flashbacks, or depression.
- Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the impact the crash has had.
- Find a doctor, counsellor, or psychologist here.
If children or young people are affected
It’s common for children and young people to experience significant distress and on-going anxieties after an earthquake. Many remain highly anxious and on alert in case another quake happens. Some may be clingier and upset when they’re separated from parents or other family members. Some might be moodier and more irritable, deeply sad, or possibly completely overwhelmed at times. Our information sheet for parents and caregivers Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event offers helpful insights into what a child or young person may be experiencing, depending on their age and stage. It also offers ways you can give them good ongoing support.
Remember that parents and carers are a child or young person’s main source of security during this time of sudden change and uncertainty. Keep your focus on helping them to be safe and feel safe. Be there for them in the weeks and months to come as they emotionally react and adjust to the changes. Avoid talking to them about your own fears and worries and find an adult you trust to talk to instead.
We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as family, whānau, friends or a community, for as long as you need us after being harmed or seriously disrupted by a natural disaster. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.
Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. In times of disaster, our team of Support Workers will be on the ground providing support in the most affected communities.
What we can offer
Our Support Workers can support you with:
- someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope through the trauma, changes, and losses
- help to understand your rights and make informed choices
- help to access local support services and counselling to suit your situation
- information and help to answer your questions
- practical support and assistance to deal with things like funeral and coronial processes.
We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and wellbeing of all those affected by a serious earthquake.
If you have English as a second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.