KOTA KINABALU: Geologists are hoping that a series of minor yearly tremors that have been occurring in Lahad Datu will be enough to avert a major earthquake in Sabah’s east coast district.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) geologist Dr Felix Tongkul said tremors with a magnitude of between three and four had happened in Lahad Datu almost every year.
These minor tremors may help release the energy of the stress that has been building up in the fault lines in Lahad Datu, he said after a public talk on Mount Kinabalu earthquake at UMS.
He said worries that Lahad Datu could face a strong a earthquake was real as the last occurrence there was in 1976 with a magnitude of 5.8.
Earthquakes can recur at the same location after 30 to 50 years as stress builds up in fault lines.
The epicentre of that earthquake was several kilometres south of downtown Lahad Datu.
Noting that an earthquake of such strength was not enough to cause serious damage to buildings, Tongkul however acknowledged that ‘‘we cannot say a big one will never occur’’.
UMS engineering programme head Prof Dr Abdul Karim Mirasa said designs for proposed multi storey buildings in Lahad Datu district must include features to make them withstand earthquakes.
Amid concerns that the east coast district was due for an earthquake, the structural engineering specialist said existing multi-storey structures there should be retrofitted with damping systems as well.
"I fear that if nothing is done we will have problems," said Abdul Karim who was involved in the design of the damping system for Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) control tower to enable the structure to withstand earthquakes.
He said the designs of most Malaysian buildings did not take into account earthquakes as the phenomena was not deemed to be a serious problem in the country.
However, Sabah was the most prone to earthquakes among all the states with Putrajaya trailing in second spot.
Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) director general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said he had warned that Lahad Datu was another hotspot for seismic activity and the authorities should be prepared in dealing with a possible earthquakes there.
Che Gayah said the stress on the active faults had been building up since then despite a magnitude of three tremor there in 2012.
Former Sabah Geological Department director David Lee said that Lahad Datu was among the areas in the state they had advised to be classified as restricted development areas as these were deemed to be earthquake prone.
Other areas include Ranau town and Pinosuk Plateau in Mesilau near Kundasang.
Lee said he was concerned at seeing multi-storey buildings in Lahad Datu as these were not likely to be designed to withstand earthquakes.