Earthquake effects in a non-Earthquake Zone
Can it be considered strange that non-Earthquake zone countries can feel the effect of tremors? If you refer to the Seismic activity chart, you will find that Peninsular Malaysia is off limits on seismic activity, but in reality, we can feel the tremors as and when our neighbor gets an earthquake inshore or offshore.
As recent as April 7, 2010 at 6.15am (local Malaysian time), there was an Earthquake off the west coast of North Sumatra (Indonesia) with a Richter Scale of 7.5, which was strong enough to sway high-rise buildings in central Peninsular Malaysia. A friend who was in a Condo felt his unit swaying, and he rushed down with his family to get out of the building and they walked down from the ninth floor. It is understandable why people get out of the building when there is such a threat of collapse when Earthquakes strike within the region – in Malaysia, which is not within the earthquake belt, most high-rise buildings need not put in the Earthquake resistant design codes and safety standards, unlike the buildings in California. However, there are tall buildings which have incorporated Earthquake and Wind Resistant designs – for one, the PetronasTwinTowers, a one time tallest building in the world, and currently still the tallest TwinTowerBuilding in the World.
Most neighboring country’s Earthquakes affect the high-rise buildings in Malaysia, and since I stay in a landed property, I could not feel any movement or effect when the Earthquakes strike, not even when the most devastating one which struck on December 26, 2004. However, when an Earthquake struck in September 2009, I was in the 9th storey of a Commercial building, and I noticed a vibration of the building as well as dust particles falling from the ceiling of the room I was in and which were made from plaster materials. When there was movement in the glass of water on the table, I decided it was time to get out of the building – that was with a magnitude of 7.0 Richter Scale.
Only today, April 11, 2012, there is another powerful Earthquake off the Acheh province, Sumatra, Indonesia, with a Richter Scale of 8.6 magnitude, in the Indian Ocean, and again, tremors were felt in the West Coast of Malaysia, in the central region, especially to those staying in high rise buildings. My daughter, staying in one of the Condos, felt abit dizzy, even though she was staying in the second floor of the building which is about 15 storeys high. It is indeed strange that we can feel tremors on Earthquakes happened in the Ocean where Malaysia is shielded by the land mass of Sumatra - how shock waves travel beneath the water appears to be amazing and shocking at the same time. So, no country, even though we are not in the Earthquake belt, can be considered to be Earthquake proof.
I know what an Earthquake is and how frightening it can be, although I am resident in a non-Earthquake zone. I experienced such an Earthquake in January 17, 1994 (Northridge) when I was in the Marriott Courtyard hotel in Laguna Hills, California when it struck at 4.30am with a magnitude of 6.7, and I was about 70 miles away from the epic center. The bed was shaking so hard, it woke me up. Without knowing what is happening then, I jumped off the bed onto the floor and the shakes did not stop, that was when I realized that an Earthquake had struck, even with my illiteracy at that time on the subject – it lasted about 30 seconds, the longest 30 seconds fear for my life. Although I did not suffer any injury, not even psychologically from what can be considered a ‘traumatic’ experience, I paid attention to all the notices whenever I am in California about what not to do when Earthquake strikes – with a thought that it can mean a life and death situation.
There have been, so far, no reports of buildings collapsing due to Earthquakes, including high rise ones in Malaysia, only the fear that it may happen, but the authorities have been giving assurances and reassurances that there is no danger it happening here. However, having said that, can Earthquakes affect us in a non-Earthquake zone, with serious consequences? You bet they do, the devastating effects come in the form of Tsunamis where the destruction and effects were reported widely, both in the printed media as well as cyber ones, after the Quake which happened on December 26, 2004.
Being shielded by the Sumatran Island mass, nobody would have imagine the effects caused by the Earthquake, in the form of a Tsunami, which caused death to 68 people, mostly in the Island of Penang, the northern part of the Malaysian Peninsular. Overall, injury was caused to 75 people throughout Peninsular Malaysia then. Although the effects were not as bad as those in Phuket, Thailand, on the same day, it was still devastating to the residents of Penang, who probably may not have seen many such kind of destruction.
The question is, are we safe from the effects of being in a non-Earthquake zone? Most probably, there may not be any reassuring answer at all, since Earthquakes by themselves, are so unpredictable, on the strength and magnitude and latitude of when and where they will strike. At best, should there be an Earthquake of a certain magnitude identified, our Meteorological Department in Malaysia will sound out a Tsunami alert, just in case, as they have done for the past few Earthquakes off Sumatra. Fortunately, so far, none of those Earthquakes caused any worrisome Tsunamis, similar to that of 2004. I suppose it is better to be safe than sorry.
As for now, I am staying in an area which is away from the coastline, and in the Central region of Peninsular Malaysia, and on higher ground, and in theory, I am safe, but am I? Of course, I am hopeful that the Seismic chart I have is accurate and that the Fault Lines are on the West of Sumatra remained in my lifetime. From what I read, the fault lines can shift, and if they do, I am also hopeful that they don’t shift from West to the East of Sumatra, where the devastation of an Earthquake will be felt by us much more, and definitely new laws on high rise buildings need to be re-drafted to include the Earthquake Resistant (not Proof) codes into the Building designs. Of course, if that happens, that is a drastic shift of the Fault Line, and in scientific theory, this will not happen, I was told, or will it?