There's been an earthquake or tsunami
This page provides practical advice on what to do if there's been an earthquake or tsunami. It's for Australians already overseas that may need help.
This page provides information on:
- what to do immediately after an earthquake
- tsunami risks near the beach
- what to do in the hours that follow
- where to get help
This page is for Australians overseas who've just experienced a large earthquake or tsunami. If you're still planning your trip, see our general advice and information about earthquakes before you go.
What to do immediately after an earthquake
Check for immediate hazards. Some you'll need to avoid. Others you'll need to deal with quickly to prevent more danger.
- Treat injuries. Check yourself for injuries. Seek first aid, if necessary, before helping other injured or trapped people. If it's serious, you may need medical assistance.
- Maintain supplies. Especially clean water. Water, food and medication may be hard to find after an earthquake.
- Conserve battery power. Keep your mobile charged as much as possible. Send text messages where possible, and turn off other services like syncing when not required.
If you're indoors
- Watch for fire. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake. Even if there's a small fire, put it out quickly. It can spread quickly. Especially if a gas pipe breaks.
- Shut off the gas. If you're indoors and smell gas, turn off the gas valve. If you can't find the valve, get away before it ignites.
- Avoid broken glass. Wear sturdy shoes that glass shards won't penetrate.
- Be aware of damaged wires. The tremor may have broken or exposed electrical wiring.
- Identify and avoid displaced items. Even if something hasn't fallen yet, sudden aftershocks dislodge it.
If you're outside
- Keep away from buildings. Especially multi-level and high rise structures. Even if it looks intact, the tremor could have weakened it. It could collapse during aftershocks.
- Don't enter any building. Only enter once authorities have confirmed it's safe.
- Stay clear of power lines. Especially if down or damaged. The ground may be electrified, even more than 20 metres away.
- Watch for falling rocks and trees. Especially in the mountains.
- Be aware of landslides and mudslides. Earthquakes can trigger them. Especially if you're in a mountainous area near unstable slopes or cliffs.
If you're trapped under debris
- Cover your mouth. Protect your lungs from dust.
- Minimise movement. You could dislodge something and make your situation worse. You could also kick up dust and cause breathing problems.
- Use your mobile. Call for help and send text messages. Include details of your last location and your situation. This can help first responders work out where you are.
- Tap on a pipe or hard object to make a noise. This can help rescuers find you. Only shout as a last resort. Don't wear out your voice. You may be trapped for a while.
- Don't use a match for light. If a gas line has burst nearby, you could ignite it.
Tsunami risks if you're on or near the beach
Undersea earthquakes can cause a tsunami. If you're on the coast, or on the water, you're at risk. Follow our advice from above on what do, as well as the following.
- Listen for tsunami warning alerts and sirens. If one sounds, get to a safe place on higher ground immediately. Follow instructions from your tour guide, hotel manager or local emergency services.
- Watch for the warning signs of a tsunami. This includes water receding back from the tide line unexpectedly. Get to safety.
What to do next
Prepare for aftershocks
Expect aftershocks. The initial shaking may only be 45 to 90 seconds. In a major earthquake, that's rarely the end of it.
There'll probably be a series of aftershocks. Some may be more violent than the original tremor. Be prepared.
- Extinguish all flames. Including candles and cigarettes. If the next aftershock breaks a gas line, it could ignite.
- Don't use the stove. Remove all pots and pans from it. The next aftershock may knock them off and cause serious burns.
- Clean up spills. Especially for corrosive or flammable liquids.
- Stay away from windows. You could be injured by flying glass.
- Look for potential hazards. Look for objects that may fall during the next tremor. Move them to the ground.
Work out where's the safest place to be before the next tremor hits.
Often, it's crouching in an internal doorway, away from windows. It may be crouching under heavy furniture, such as a desk or table.
Follow the news
Follow local news. Listen for updates about the situation. Especially warnings about the likelihood of aftershocks, tsunamis or civil unrest.
- Update your Smartraveller subscription. Make sure you've subscribed to updates for your destination. If you've switched to a local SIM, make sure you update your number so you can receive critical alerts by SMS.
- Listen to radio or watch TV. If the power's out, try to find someone with a battery operated device.
- Find someone to translate. If the local news isn't in English, ask someone to help translate key information. This could be your hotel manager, tour guide, travel companion or a local.
- Follow news online. Visit trusted local and international news websites.
- Check social media. Like or follow relevant news services for your destination. Follow hashtags about the earthquake or tsunami.
Be aware that you may only have access to the internet for a short time. Communication infrastructure may fail. Gather as much information as you can about the situation, while you can.
Decide if you'll stay or leave
It's up to you whether you stay and shelter in place, or leave.
Most deaths or injuries in an earthquake occur when people try to move prematurely and get struck by debris. Only move when you're confident it's safe to do so.
Option 1: Shelter in place
It's critical to take appropriate shelter during a disaster.
It may be safer to shelter inside rather than evacuating a building. Especially if the building is built to withstand earthquakes.
- Prepare your supplies. You may be stuck in your shelter for some time. Refill your water bottles and gather your supplies. You may need to ration them. It may be hours or days before local authorities can help you.
- Follow instructions from local authorities. If instructions aren't available, use your judgment based on observations and information at hand.
- Be wary of food hygiene. When the power is out, fresh food and meat spoils quickly. Especially in warm climates. Only eat food that you are confident is still fresh.
- Watch out for infectious diseases. Without running water, sanitation is an issue. Waterborne infectious diseases such as cholera are especially common. Only drink purified water.
Option 2: Evacuate
If you don't think it's safe to stay where you are, get out as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Decide where you're going. If possible, have a plan before you venture out. Find out if there's a safe place local authorities are sending people to. This may be a shelter.
- Use the stairs. Never use an elevator. If there are aftershocks, power outages or other damage you could be trapped.
- Take supplies. It may be hard to find food, water and other essentials during a crisis. Take what you can carry comfortably.
- Book tickets quickly. With low supply and high demand, options to leave can fill quickly. They can also be expensive.
- Drive cautiously. If driving, avoid bridges and ramps that may have been damaged. Drive slowly in case the road is cracked, or there are new potholes.
Contact people as soon as possible
Contact your friends, family, airline and insurer as soon as you can.
- Contact your loved ones. They may fear for your safety. Especially if they've heard about the earthquake or tsunami though the news or social media. The longer you leave it, the more distressed your loved ones will be.
- Contact your airline. If you want to fly out, you'll want to get a seat quickly. Airlines may cancel flights. Prices may go up.
- Contact your travel insurer. If you're covered, they may be able to help with emergency logistics and costs. If not covered, you'll have to cover all your costs and make arrangements yourself.
The next round aftershocks may damage communication infrastructure. If you don't contact people quickly, you may miss your chance. In an earthquake or tsunami, it could be days or weeks until you can get in touch.
Where to get help after an earthquake
- Local emergency services. We publish local contact numbers in the travel advisory for each destination.
- Hotel manager or tour guide. They may know what to do, where to go and where you can get help locally.
- Travel companions. Look after each other. Help them if they're in need.
- Friends and family back home. They may not be able to help you on the ground, however may help in other ways. They could help change your travel plans, talk to your insurer or send you money.
- Travel insurance. Most insurers have 24-hour emergency hotlines you can call from overseas. If you're covered, they may provide logistical support, as well as financial.
Australian Government assistance after an earthquake
In some circumstances, the Australian Government may help. In most cases, you must exhaust all other avenues before seeking emergency consular assistance.
For emergency consular assistance, contact the relevant Australian embassy or consulate. Or, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra:
- by phone on +61 2 6261 3305
- or online if we have activated our crisis page on Smartraveller
It's important to understand how and when we may help. Read the Consular Services Charter.
What we can do
- We can provide emergency consular support if you need urgent help. Only after you've exhausted all other avenues.
- We can give you a list of local hospitals with doctors who speak English if you need medical assistance.
- We can help you contact your family or friends, with your consent
- We can choose to initiate a crisis response to the earthquake and we know Australians are, or could be, affected.
- We can activate a crisis page on Smartraveller with an emergency contact form.
- We can help keep you informed by email and SMS. Only if you've subscribed for updates about your destination.
What we can't do
- We can't guarantee your safety in or after an earthquake.
- We can't give you legal or medical advice.
- We can't give you medical assistance.
- We can't pay your medical bills, or loan you money to pay them. Even if it's urgent. Talk to your travel insurer.
- We can't make decisions for you, or make you leave a country. You must decide for yourself.
- We can't make your travel arrangements.
- We can't force local authorities to act, or give you special help because you're Australian.
- We can't give your family, friends or the media information about you, without your consent. See the Consular Privacy Collection Statement.
- When we initiate a crisis response you can contact us online using the crisis contact form and we will publicise our Consular Emergency Centre number.
- Stay informed when we update the travel advisory for your destination. Subscribe for updates.
- Injuries are common after an earthquake. So are water borne infectious diseases. If you need help, get medical assistance promptly.
- Understand how and when we may help. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- Learn more about earthquakes, volcanic activity and tsunamis (Geoscience Australia).
- See worldwide earthquake monitoring in real-time (US Geological Survey).
- For tsunami warnings, see the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (Indian Ocean) and U.S. Tsunami Warning System (Pacific Ocean).
- See travel insurer contact details on Find an Insurer (Insurance Council of Australia).
Crises that affect a large number of Australians overseas usually require a response beyond our normal consular services.
Terrorism remains a threat to Australians living and travelling overseas. Before you travel overseas, it's important to understand the risk of terrorism worldwide.