Earthquakes, also known as seismic events, are unpredictable geological phenomena that cause vibrations on the surface of the ground. Approximately 5 000 earthquakes occur each year in Canada. Most are of low intensity, last only a few seconds and do not cause any damage.

However, a major earthquake can last several minutes. The main shocks are generally followed by aftershocks of varying intensity.

Although few high-intensity earthquakes have been recorded in Québec recently, seismic events can occur at any time.

The three main seismic zones in the province are the following:

Charlevoix-Kamouraska
This is the most active zone in Québec. It runs along the St. Lawrence River, in the Charlevoix and Charlevoix-Est RCMs on the north shore, and in the L’Islet and Kamouraska RCMs on the south shore.

Western Quebec Seismic Zone
This zone encloses the Ottawa Valley from Montréal to Témiscamingue, as well as the Laurentians. The urban areas of Montréal and Ottawa-Gatineau are also located in this zone.

Bas-Saint-Laurent and Côte-Nord
This zone is located in the St. Lawrence estuary, between the Côte-Nord region and the Bas-Saint-Laurent region.

What to do before

Prepare an emergency kit.

Find out about seismic activity in your region This hyperlink will open in a new window.

Find out what to do in the event of an earthquake:

  • Drop down
  • Crouch
  • Hang on

Identify safe places where you can take shelter quickly.

Solidly secure furniture, such as shelves and bookcases, as well as objects hanging on the walls.

Avoid placing heavy objects on top of a shelf or above a headboard.

Store chemicals and flammable products away from sources of heat and in a place where they are less likely to spill.

Put non-slip mats under electronic devices and small household appliances, or secure them with hook and loop strips (for example, Velcro tape).

If your home has equipment that uses natural gas or is connected to an outdoor propane tank, make sure that the equipment is solidly anchored and that the conduits cannot break.

What to do during

Remain calm.

Follow the evolution of the situation and respect the instructions given by official sources of information (for example, your municipality, the Gouvernement du Québec).

Leave telephone lines free for emergency services. Only use your phone in case of an emergency. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.

Follow your municipality and Urgence Québec social media feeds and consult local media outlets for information about the current situation and steps to be taken.

If you are indoors:

  • Remain in the building. Do not go outdoors.
  • Step away from windows, mirrors, glass partitions, high bookcases, fireplaces and lighting fixtures.
  • Take shelter under a heavy piece of furniture (table, desk, bed) and hang on to it firmly until all movement has stopped. If that is not possible, crouch alongside a wall.
  • Cover your head and torso to protect yourself from objects that could fall.
  • If you are in a wheelchair, lock the wheels and protect your head and neck.
  • If you are in a crowded public place, try to take cover where you will not be trampled.
  • If you are in an elevator, select all of the floors and exit the elevator as soon as possible.

If you are outdoors:

  • Remain outdoors.
  • Step away from buildings, power lines and other structures that may collapse, such as billboards.
  • Take shelter in an open area, away from buildings and far from crowds if you are in a busy place.

If you are in a vehicle:

  • Do not stop on a bridge, high-level roads, under an overpass or in a tunnel.
  • Stop the vehicle in a safe, open space and make sure that you are not blocking the road. Remain inside.
  • Listen to the radio for instructions from the authorities.
  • If power lines have fallen on your vehicle, do not get out. Call 911 immediately or wait for emergency services. Follow the safety advice provided by Hydro-Québec This hyperlink will open in a new window.
  • If you are in a bus, remain seated until it stops, then exit and take shelter in a protected area. If that is impossible, remain seated, bend forward and protect your head.

What to do after

After you have ensured your safety and that of your family and friends, offer assistance to neighbours, as needed. Administer first aid if you are able to do so. Organize rescue operations if there are persons trapped under the rubble.

If you cannot help them without putting your safety at risk, contact emergency services by calling 911.

Aftershocks are frequent following a major earthquake. Remain vigilant and make sure that your home is safe.

Take the following steps:

  • Do not enter your home or any other building that sustained damage. If you are in doubt, contact a building inspector.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and protective clothing to avoid injuries caused by debris, particularly broken glass, when you inspect your home.
  • When you arrive, inspect your home, take pictures or videos to document the damage and notify your insurer.
  • Be alert to water, flammable liquid and gas leaks (gas leaks give off an odour), and shut off the supply if necessary.
  • Do not light matches or lighters. Open the windows.
  • Clean your home to get rid of any debris; be alert to harmful products that may have spilled and use protective gloves and glasses.
  • Make sure that the water is fit for consumption, particularly if a water main burst.
  • If the power has been off more than six hours, check the quality of food before eating it. Throw out any food that shows signs of deterioration. Consult Power outage and your food This hyperlink will open in a new window. (French only) for information on deciding what to keep and what to throw out from your refrigerator and freezer.
  • For the same reason, do not take any medications that must be stored in a cool place but were not. Return them to the pharmacy.

If you must leave your home

Leave your home if you are in danger or at the request of the authorities. If you are unsure where to go, contact your municipality. For more details, consult the government’s Evacuate your home page.

Before leaving, pack essential items for all members of your family:

  • Medications
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Extra clothes
  • Blankets
  • Money
  • Identification documents
  • Car and house keys
  • Milk, bottles and diapers for infants
  • Electronic devices and accessories for connecting them
  • Items for the wellbeing of family members with special needs 

See that domestic animals are safe or bring them to a service centre for people in a disaster if that is allowed.

Advise family or friends, as well as municipal officials, of where you intend to take shelter.

If the authorities allow it and there is no risk to your safety, you can go home. It's best to go during the day, when problems and hazards are easier to see.

Pay attention to stress reactions after a disaster:

  • Anxiety
  • Apathy or loss of energy
  • Aggressiveness
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

Appropriate psychological guidance can help you cope with responsibilities stemming from the situation. Contact Info-Santé at 811 and select Info-Social to speak with a social worker. This confidential service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Financial assistance

See the list of disasters for which assistance may be payable This hyperlink will open in a new window. (French only) and information about the financial assistance program This hyperlink will open in a new window. (French only).