Malaysia

Moderate earthquake ‘can happen anytime’ in Malaysia

February 08, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 – Although Malaysians may feel that the country is not prone to earthquakes, experts believe otherwise.

Located at the peripheral of the ring of fire and beside two neighbours, Indonesia and the Philippines, which have seen violent episodes of seismological activities in the past few years, the chances of being jolted by at least one moderate earthquake cannot be ruled out.

So far, Malaysia has only encountered strong vibrations and aftershocks after its neighbours were hit by strong earthquakes.

In 2012, the Meteorological Department had detected eight earthquakes in the eastern part of the country, in Sabah and Sarawak (between 2 and 4.5 on the Richter scale).

Six earthquakes had occurred in Sabah (Tambunan, Kota Marudu, Kudat, Beluran, Kunak and Keningau) and two earthquakes had occurred in Belaga, Sarawak.

However, an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 on the Richter scale in Lahat Datu in Sabah in 1976 is believed to be the strongest earthquake so far.

THE THREAT IS REAL            

A seismology expert, Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas, 54, said the threat of an earthquake in Malaysia cannot be ignored.

The Meteorological Department’s Deputy Director (Application) said some of the country’s most vulnerable areas are Bukit Tinggi in Pahang and Kuala Pilah in Negeri Sembilan.

A relatively strong earthquake can hit these areas and some parts of Sabah and Sarawak.

“Previously, a moderate earthquake had occurred in Lahad Datu, Sabah, and it is possible for a moderate earthquake to occur in other areas located at or near active fault lines.

“Malaysia is close to areas that have experienced strong earthquakes, including Sumatra and the Andaman Sea, while Sabah and Sarawak are located close to the earthquake zone of South Philippines and North Sulawesi. Therefore, the odds of an earthquake striking Peninsula Malaysia cannot be ruled out,” he said to Bernama at the Meteorological Department’s headquarters.

THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING HIT BY A STRONG EARTHQUAKE

Nevertheless, Dr Mohd Rosaidi, who has been with the meteorological department for the last 30 years, stated that the possibility of being hit by a strong earthquake remains slim.

This fact is based on the findings of local experts who study earthquakes, with local universities conducting further studies on the country’s vulnerability to earthquakes.

“The proposed long term studies on active fault lines, especially in Ranau and Lahad Datu in Sabah and Bukit Tinggi in Pahang, are being carried out by the department, along with the Mineral and Geosciences Department,” he said.

Dr Mohd Rosaidi, who has a Doctorate in earthquake studies from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and a Masters degree in seismology from Japan’s International Institute of Seismology and Earthquake Engineering, said earthquakes in a seabed unleashes another threat - tsunami.  

“Based on some of the findings, strong earthquakes occur at zones where tectonic plates collide at the Andaman Sea, the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea and the Sulawesi Sea. When a strong earthquake occurs in these seas, it can unleash a tsunami that can end up at the coastlines of Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

TSUNAMI WARNING STATION

Dr Mohamad Rosaidi said after Aceh was affected by an earthquake and a tsunami in December 2004, the country had taken steps to establish17 earthquake detection stations and the National Tsunami Early Warning System.

He pointed out that these 17 stations have been operating since 2005, and they can detect tectonic plate movements.

Seven of these stations are located at the peninsula and the remaining 10 stations are located in Sabah and Sarawak. These stations are equipped with seismic movement detectors, high tide and low tide gauges. Cameras too have been stationed along certain stretches of the coastline to look out for tsunamis.  

Within 10 minutes of an occurrence of an earthquake, a warning will be issued so that locals can take the necessary precautions.

Dr Mohd Rosaidi also said 23 tsunami sirens have been installed at high risk locations all over the nation to warn people in the event of a tsunami.

HELP FROM FOREIGN PARTIES

To keep earthquakes and tsunamis in check, the department is working closely with international agencies like the International Tsunami Warning Centre and the International Tsunami Training Centre, both based in Hawaii.

Dr Mohd Rosaidi added that the country is cooperating with the meteorological agencies of Indonesia and the Philippines by sharing information and providing early alerts.

The exchange of information on earthquake and tsunami warnings across borders is vital to ensure that the earthquake and tsunami warning systems are efficient.

WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT OF AN EARTHQUAKE

Are we ready to face an earthquake? What should we do if an earthquake occurs in Malaysia?

“When an earthquake occurs, ensure that you are safe and immediately, listen to the bulletins issued by the department through the television, radio and social websites,” he said.

The department also conducts awareness programmes so that the public can react quickly in the event of an earthquake or a tsunami. – Bernama