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When Earth Attacks

You shouldn't abandon your car, unless there is no other option, and if you do, don't leave it in a traffic lane

By Novella Carpenter

OK, darlings this is part four of my cars and the environment blitz. Taking my cue from popular movies like Jaws, this last Earth Day column will focus on the revenge of the Earth. Call me paranoid, a pantheist or just plain dumb, but every earthquake, hurricane or tsunami that strikes lately makes me wonder if the Big Blue is sending us a not so subtle signal. My question is: What do you do if you're in your car and, gulp, one of these messages from Mama Earth comes directly to you? For all potential acts of nature, you should bear in mind the Emergency 101 basics. No. 1: don't run out of gas; you should keep the tank at least half full at all times if you live anywhere a disaster could strike, whether it's an earthquake, a hurricane or a blizzard. No. 2: You should always carry emergency food and water, a light source, first aid, warm clothing and blankets and a pair of walking shoes in your car. And finally, No. 3: Remain calm.

Here is some detailed advice regarding my top three favorite natural disasters. I'm obsessed with earthquakes, mostly because experts agree that another big one is coming to the San Francisco Bay Area with a 62 percent chance in the next 30 years. For those of you who think an earthquake is only for Californians, think again. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, "Earthquakes pose a significant risk to 75 million Americans in 39 states."

What to do if you're driving and a quake strikes? First off, don't keep driving. You'll hear the sounds of the earthquake first, then feel the rumbling--pull to the side of the road, away from overpasses, power lines, light posts, trees or signs (where would that be?). Stay in your car until the shaking stops and tune to emergency radio. When it's safe to drive again, do so, but cautiously, and bear in mind that you shouldn't try to pull a Dukes of Hazzard by ignoring Road Closed signs. You shouldn't abandon your car, unless there is no other option, and if you do, don't leave it in a traffic lane.

I bet people in Florida are happy not to experience earthquakes, but how about the hurricane season, which begins in June and runs through the end of November? According to the Federal Emergency Mitigation Agency (better known as FEMA), during a hurricane watch (the 24-to-36-hour period when a storm might hit) people are urged to fuel their car. The idea being, when the electricity goes down, those gas pumps won't work and then you can't skedaddle (except with your 1976 10-speed with that uncomfortable seat).

If you are given orders to evacuate, avoid driving on coastal and low-lying roads. Flooding across the roadway may occur, and you should never drive through water on the road. The reason is, the water is moving very quickly, and it could pick up the car and pull you along for a watery ride that might end in death. The proper response then, though it seems crazy, is to abandon the car--if you can't stop, turn around and go another way--and move quickly to higher ground. Finally, so we can cover all areas of the United States with a potential disaster scenario, let's talk about blizzards and ice storms. I know, it's too warm and nice out to think about a cold-weather revenge of Mother Nature, but maybe you should plan way ahead.

On the maintenance side, you should make sure your tires aren't bald, your defroster works and you have a functional scraper and a small shovel in your car during the winter. If you do get stuck in a storm, it is important to stay in the car and wait for someone to rescue you. Only leave the car if you can see a safe haven (my ideal would be a donut shop). While you wait, turn the car on and off to get heat, but leave the window cracked and make sure the tailpipe isn't blocked with snow so you don't commit suicide. Ain't nature beautiful?

The Earth's got your back--or does she? Email Novella at [email protected]

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From the April 20-27, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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