Quakes in nearby isles put Sabah on tsunami watch

Indonesian search and rescue personnel near the damaged Anutapura hospital in Palu, on Oct 11, 2018.
Indonesian search and rescue personnel near the damaged Anutapura hospital in Palu, on Oct 11, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA • Malaysia's eastern Sabah state has been put on tsunami watch, the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) said, following dozens of tremors in southern Philippines and the Indonesian islands over the past two weeks.

The department is on alert particularly for earthquake activities in neighbouring Mindanao and Sulawesi islands, closely observing the Celebes and Sulu seas for a possible tsunami that could sweep Sabah's coastline with little or no warning.

A MetMalaysia official told The Star that in the past two weeks, there were at least 24 earthquakes in Indonesia's Sulawesi and Lesser Sunda Islands and the Philippines' Mindanao island, with the magnitude ranging between 4.4 and 6.0 on the Richter scale.

"We are worried that an earthquake could take place in the middle of the sea, resulting in a tsunami which could engulf Sabah's northern or easterly coast towns," the official said.

At 1.30am on Thursday, a magnitude-1.2 earthquake struck Sabah. The quake was detected at a depth of 9km, with its epicentre located 13km north-east of Ranau.

The official said MetMalaysia is working closely with Philippine and Indonesian agencies to monitor seismic movements in the region around the clock.

"If we suspect any tsunami activity, we will issue immediate public warnings to alert residents of the possible danger and activate other emergency protocols," the official said.


MetMalaysia is also monitoring the tidal gauge placed around Sabah's coast. Although Sabah is not seated within the Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean, it is close enough to the edge of these fault lines and is susceptible to the compression forces from the interaction of three main tectonic plates.

In June 2015, Ranau was struck by a magnitude-6 earthquake.

Eighteen people, including nine Singaporeans, were killed when they were struck by falling rocks on Mount Kinabalu.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 14, 2018, with the headline 'Quakes in nearby isles put Sabah on tsunami watch'. Print Edition | Subscribe