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Erin Stewart: Natural disasters refocus priorities

Published: Sunday, Sept. 4 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

When my house started shaking, I picked up my daughter and ran away from the sliding glass doors. Then my mind stopped.

I could not remember anything I have ever learned about earthquakes or emergency preparedness. I vaguely remember starting to run up the stairs, then opening the front door and finally just standing in the living room like an idiot.

I live on the East Coast, and the recent 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook me up. After all my years living in Utah waiting for the “big one,” it’s funny that I experience my first earthquake across the country.

I admit it was scary. It was scary not knowing when it would end or even what it was until the news reports started coming in. It was scary not being able to get ahold of my husband. But the most terrifying thing was to be holding my 4-year-old daughter and having no idea what to do or how to protect her.

Fortunately, the earthquake did practically no damage and we were all completely safe. But as soon as it was over, we also faced a hurricane warning for Irene, which was moving up the coast and making newscasters go berserk in the ratings scramble.

Sandwiched between two natural disasters, I whirled into a tizzy of disaster preparedness. I dug into our 72-hour-kits to find expired cans of weenies and no diapers for our 1-year-old. We also updated our family emergency plan because now I know I become a blathering moron in an emergency.

It was interesting to see how everyone in my family handled the week of post-earthquake, pre-hurricane drama. My dad, for example, spread out all of his emergency supplies on his table and took inventory of every sleeping bag, flashlight and iodine tablet. My mother spent the week scanning in scrapbooks to her computer and locking up her genealogy books in watertight containers. Nothing like the threat of a hurricane to make you buckle down on your family history.

Somewhere amidst all the preparations and general worrying over what turned out to be nothing, my husband and I had a chat about what we would grab in an emergency. If we had to evacuate or our house started flooding, what would we take?

The answer boiled down to nothing. There was absolutely nothing in our home that we cared about enough to think about in an emergency. We would grab our life-preserving items like 72-hour-kits, documents, etc., but all the stuff in our house was just that — stuff.

The only thing that matters to us is our family. When the earthquake struck, my only lucid thoughts were on my children. My husband drove home immediately from work to make sure we were OK. Suddenly his afternoon meetings didn’t seem so important.

In the end, the earthquake was little more than a rumble and the hurricane blew through with minimal damage. But to be honest, I’m grateful for the reminder that the things in my life that truly matter are not things.

And while it’s always good to revisit emergency plans, I remembered that my ultimate goal is not surviving an earthquake, a hurricane or even this lifetime; it’s being forever with this family that I cherish.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, Stewart discusses it all while her 4-year-old daughter crams Mr. Potato Head pieces in her little sister's nose.

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