Lessons to be Learned from Quake

Kch bp080615 pw quake p2Yan explaining the fault lines across Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU: Lives could have been saved if a proposal by the Sabah Minerals and Geoscience Department to install an earthquake monitoring system was put in place in 2013.

Sabah Minerals and Geoscience Department’s former director Alexander Yan told The Borneo Post in an exclusive interview yesterday that had the proposal been given the nod, lives could have been saved from the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked Mount Kinabalu on Friday and claimed 18 lives.

“Yes, we could have prevented the loss of lives if we have put in place the Global Positional System (GPS) that could detect even slight movements of the earth in the affected area.”

He disclosed that his proposal to the federal government, among others, contained a request for RM7 million to install GPS monuments along the fault lines in the vicinity of Mt Kinabalu.

“However, my proposal was put on shelf, and the state department concerned could not do much.”

On the promise made by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Sunday that the government would build a Seismic Centre in Sabah to monitor earthquakes in the state, Yan said it was a good move.

“We very much welcome such a centre and certainly it’s high time for such centre to be operational in the state.” On why there was such a proposal in 2012, Yan, a registered professional geologist and a council member of the Institute of Geology Malaysia, said the last earthquake measuring 5.2 magnitude occurred in 1991. Based on the 50-year cycle of earthquake recurrence, he had predicted that the recent earthquake could occur, so the state better be prepared.

“However, it occurred within the 25-year-cycle, instead of the normal 50 years,” said Yan, who was recently appointed as a member of the Board of Geologists Malaysia. Though Yan was not caught by surprise by Friday’s earthquake, he was surprised by its magnitude, which he considered as a strong earthquake.

Based on his department’s studies in 2006, there were a number of active fault lines in Sabah, of which two distinctive ones – Kedamaian and Lobou-Lobou faults – lie within Ranau District and criss-crossing Mt Kinabalu.

Kch bp080615 pw quake p3The map of Sabah showing the numerous fault lines. The red lines denote the active ones.

Under his proposal three years ago, Yan had proposed installing at least 10 GPS ‘monuments’ around these two fault zones with holes drilled up to between 100 to 200 metres deep until they reach the bedrocks. Based on history and the 50-year cycle prediction, the next one would probably happen in Lahad Datu.

“In July 1976, Lahad Datu experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, with damage mostly to buildings.

To realise Muhyiddin’s proposal, agencies such as the Department of Minerals and Geosciences, Malaysian Mapping and Surveying Department (Jupem) and Meteorological Department together with local universities such as UiTM and UTM should get to work together immediately, advised Yan.

Kch bp080615 pw quake p4Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun.Meanwhile, in an earlier exclusive interview, Minister of Environment, Culture and Tourism, Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said Sabahans had been used to minor tremors now and then, but no one predicted an earthquake of such magnitude coming.

“This is something no one can predict. There have been tremors in the past but not of this magnitude. It is not reasonably foreseen, if I may use the term. Masidi, however, agreed there was a lesson to be learned from the whole incident.

“The world or the earth has become so unpredictable that we have to be ready for any eventuality. I think people need to be ready.”

Contrary to Yan, he said no authorities within Sabah had any prior knowledge that an earthquake of such magnitude might hit Sabah.

“People are looking at what is happening in countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.

“In fact, yesterday, I heard they were trying to connect those happenings with ours. It is a good time for scientists to look beyond our own shore. We can’t depend only on mere happenings in the past,” said Masidi.

To be better prepared for earthquakes, his ministry was combing the country for qualified geologists, adding that his ministry was “more than happy” to engage the expertise and advice of geologists.

“Perspective needs to be corrected. We assume we should not be solving it ourselves. After all, Sabah is part of Malaysia. Things done there (in the Peninsular Malaysia) should be done here too.

“I am not saying they have not done that so far, but I say everybody needs to open their eyes to think on a national level, not just state level,” said Masidi.

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