11th April Tsunami – unfounded fear and no central command and contingency plans in Malaysia
Many of us we chose to stay at home on the day and many watched the five yearly investiture of the 14th Agong and then continued to lay back and be lazy for the rest of the day but many went to the beaches for vacation as well. Just after the sun started to lower down and people started to prepare for the evening, ending another beautiful day, some parts of the country experienced frightening tremors and jolted with fear especially those in high buildings. For some from those in the hospitals, hotels, high rise dwellings and travelling on the roads, any form of normalcy stopped abruptly and some sort of panic seemed to rule the day.
Malaysia’s cyberspace was immediately active and the people were left to their own imagination to find on what was actually happening.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) was effective in provided the warning to the countries in this region and the US earthquake monitoring centre issued the magnitude, location and depth of the epicenter of the earthquake.
The powerful 8.6 magnitude earthquake and a series of strong aftershocks had struck off Indonesia on sending people scurrying from buildings. Then the most dreaded fear came into everyone’s mind; the Tsunami. Thus in Malaysia, Thailand, Burma and as far away as southern India tsunami warnings were immediately issued and the evacuation, from lower grounds along the shores to somewhere higher began, but there seemed little risk of a disastrous tsunami as in 2004.
Someone calculated the speed of the wave was at 800km/hr and based on the location of the epicenter and the surrounding shores put on the internet that the tsunami will hit to the minute in Thailand by 8.45 pm, Penang 9.20 pm 8.45pm, then Kedah, Langkawi, Perak and all up to Port Dickson by 2.00 am and even included Singapore where the tsunami would reach by 7.51 am the next morning.
The usual lackadaisical and ad hoc actions
At the mean time the Fire Department sent all their fire engines everywhere in Kuala Lumpur and other affected areas, while the RTM was still pre-occupied with the main event; the investiture. TV3 did break the news but with some general advise to stay away from the shores and reported the earthquake story.
The Penang Police Headquarters purportedly announced that the Penang Bridge will be closed and the ferry service will be stopped anytime soon. TV3 then reported that the Penang Bridge continued to allow traffic to flow but the ferry service was stopped. Is it the right thing to do to close the bride or even to stop the ferry service?
RTM was still silent but spilled out everything in the main news at 8.0pm but without any coherent with the various actions taken by the many authorities from the Metrological Department, the Police, fire department, local authorities, media and none from the cabinet showed their face to tell the public. Apparently the Metrological Department, which is more knowledgeable on all things above the ground, suddenly has the authority to assert matters deep below the ground as well!
The alert was issued by the Malaysian Meteorological Department but rescinded about four hours later after the threat was deemed to have passed, state news agency Bernama reported, citing a statement from the department.
Do we have a National Disaster plan?
What happened to the National Disaster Center yesterday? Were they all on leave? Who is the person in charge in Malaysia to coordinate actions, information, rescues, warnings, and to make decisions to evacuate? There was no central command to tell the people and a comprehensive system to disseminate reliable and accurate information.
It is of no wonder that many people were in unnecessary trauma when they were forced to evacuate from their homes in the high risers, the patients in the hospitals too had to be evacuated just because of these tremors which had occurred so many times but without any follow ups by the UMNO/BN government on what to do with it.
The people in Kuala Kedah who experienced the 2004 tsunami were really in shock and trauma. They had left their houses in hurry and obviously without any preparation on evacuation procedures. Their houses were left unsecure and may be looted by unscrupulous individuals. In the rush they could have involved in unnecessary hardships, incidents or even accidents.
The fishermen refused to go to the sea for several days. The people were unsure of the situation after the tsunami warning was lifted.
The ring of fire
11th April earthquake occurred in this Ring of Fire between two tectonic plates. Plates are like giant rafts of the earth’s surface which often slide next to, collide with, and are forced underneath other plates. Around the Ring of Fire, the Pacific Plate is colliding with and sliding underneath other plates. This process is known as subduction and the volcanically and seismically active area nearby is known as a subduction zone.
We are so close to the Pacific Ring of Fire and one day the cascading effect will surely hit us hard .The volcanic activities affecting Malaysia is from the east end of Sabah, curved through to the southern shore of Borneo, Java Island and Sumatra and break at the north west end of Sumatra, before it continues to the east coast of the India sub-continent.
The unasked questions
Let us ask the hard question, is Malaysia prepared for a real earthquake? Are our buildings safe enough? Who should be in charge or the defacto minister of disaster management? Sri Lanka has its own minister in charge, Mr. Mahinda Amaraweera, Sri Lanka’s minister for disaster management.
What are the criteria when evacuation should be made? Why not have campaigns on tremors and evacuation awareness for the public?
What must be done after the tsunami warning is lifted? How to convince the people of the situation? So what is the UMNO/BN government doing? Is there a comprehensive plan?
Do we have to wait for Petronas Twin Towers to collapse then only the UMNO/NM government will take some action? But that will be too late. Najib as the prime minister has not even come forward to comment on the situation. As usual Najib is oblivious to the situation and is hopeless; he does not even bother to do anything about the impending bankruptcy faced by Malaysia as warned by his own minister, Idris Jala.
Anyway, it is also most prudent to have control, and due to nobody in control, resulting in panic, with some people unnecessarily die in the buildings, inland roads and hospitals when none died in the shores directly facing the epicenter close by with a three foot wave hitting the shore during low tide.