KUCHING: Cloud-seeding operations got underway in Sarawak as the air pollutant index in Sri Aman climbed to hazardous levels again.
The town, located near the Sarawak-Kalimantan border, registered an API reading of 414 at 1pm yesterday, while Kuching, Sarikei and Samarahan recorded “very unhealthy” levels of 241,218 and 214 respectively.
This is the second time that the API in Sri Aman breached the hazardous mark. It was 397 Tuesday night.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said the cloud-seeding operation would be conducted through tomorrow.
He said the first stage yesterday involved a Royal Malaysian Air Force C-130 aircraft flying from Kuching to Kota Samarahan, Serian, Sri Aman, Betong, Saratok, Sarikei, Kanowit, Sibu, Mukah, Sematan and Bau.
“We hope it will be effective. But it depends on whether clouds are available, ” he told reporters at the RMAF base here.
Uggah said some hotspots had been detected in Sri Aman, worsening the effects from the transboundary haze.
He said five bulldozers would assist the Fire and Rescue Department. A Bombardier aircraft from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) in Miri was on standby to conduct water bombing.
“Bomba has also mobilised personnel from Betong and Serian to help fight the fires.
“In addition, the Sri Aman divisional disaster management committee has mobilised all agencies to put out the fires, ” Uggah said.
He added that the number of hotspots in Kalimantan had risen to 788 as of yesterday morning.
“That is not good news. The current wind direction is blowing to our side, ” he said. “And there is nothing much we can do.”
The C-130 aircraft took off at 1pm to begin the first cloud-seeding operation.
“For cloud seeding, we look for towering cumulus clouds to induce rain, ” said state Meteorological Department deputy director Siniarovina Urban Sinyaw.
“Before the operation, we did an analysis based on satellite and radar data to ascertain the potential for clouds to form, ” she said.
She added that there was a 30 to 40% chance of suitable clouds forming over Sri Aman as the weather was currently “quite dry”.
“Hopefully, after seeding, the wind will blow the clouds to the haze-affected areas to help relieve the situation, ” said Siniarovina.
“But it will not disperse the haze entirely, ” she cautioned.
“This is because it is coming from Kalimantan.”
Meanwhile, 1,037 schools, affecting 325,391 students, in Sarawak were closed yesterday.
The state Education Department said the closure involved 136 secondary and 901 primary schools in 20 districts.