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EXPERT WARNING: Massive quake, tsunami predicted ‘at any time’ likely to sweep through entire Padang province in Sumatra
KUALA LUMPUR: MALAYSIANS should brace themselves for the possibility of a major earthquake closer to the nation’s shores as scientists predict the occurrence of a massive one in the region of Padang, Sumatra, at “any time”.
The giant temblor is expected to wipe out the entire Padang province and underscores the urgent need to ensure buildings in this country are structurally strong enough to withstand the tremors.
“It can occur at any time now or in years to come. We are worried because Padang is closer to us. The recent Aceh earthquake was quite far away, about 800km from Penang. But if it occurs in Padang, it’s only about 300km from Kuala Lumpur,” Malaysian Meteorological
Department senior director Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas told the New Sunday Times.
“If it has the same magnitude of 8.5, the tremors will be strongly felt here.”
He said increased seismic activity in the region caused by recent major earthquakes, including Wednesday’s 8.6-magnitude earthquake which hit Aceh and the aftershocks, were adding to the stress along sections of the subduction zone, especially the Padang fault line, which sits where the Indo-Australian plate meets the Eurasian plate.
Rosaidi said seismologists were now worried about the Padang fault line as it was “already due” and last Wednesday’s earthquake could increase the pressure along it and speed up the occurrence of an earthquake.
“We worry that there may be a segment where the energy has not been released yet and the recent earthquakes may put additional pressure on it. Once it has accumulated enough energy, it will be released as a bigger earthquake.”
Scientists believe that the build-up of stress in the area, which has been going on for more than 200 years, can cause a major earthquake and a tsunami which could wipe out the whole of Padang.
Two major earthquakes that exceeded 8.5 in magnitude hit the area in 1797 and 1833 and triggered massive tsunamis. More recently, a 7.6-magnitude temblor hit Padang in September 2009, causing buildings to collapse and killing at least 530 people.
However, Rosaidi said although strong tremors would be felt in the Klang Valley if the epicentre of the quake was near Padang, there would be no danger of buildings collapsing. But high-rise structures would sway more.
Nevertheless, since the 2004 Aceh earthquake triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami and killed 230,000 people, the authorities here are looking at making our buildings and structures more earthquake-proof.
Rosaidi said the Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) was now drafting the guidelines for earthquake-proof building designs, especially for critical structures such as dams, bridges and elevated transport systems such as the Light Rail Transit and monorail networks.
If the earthquake occurred at a depth of less than 100km, it could also trigger a tsunami, but because the country was shielded by Sumatra, the impact would be minimal.
On Friday, Reuters quoted the director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore Kerry Sieh as saying that Wednesday’s earthquake was a “once-in-2,000-years event” and it increased the risks of a killer quake in the region.
Sieh said that although Wednesday’s quake caused only a few casualties and triggered small waves, the main problem was that it would have increased stress on the plate boundaries near Aceh, increasing risks of another major earthquake in the same area as the 2004 disaster.
The Sydney Morning Herald also quoted Professor John McCloskey, from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, as saying that there was a risk of a gigantic quake and tsunami that could devastate the city of Padang.