KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — Earthquakes in Sabah’s Ranau district that exceed magnitude 5.0 occur on an average of once every 24 to 25 years, a local geologist has said.
Dr Felix Tongkul, a geology professor from Universiti Malaysia Sabah, based this calculation on the previous earthquakes in the Ranau district, local daily Sin Chew Daily said.
He listed them down as a quake registering 5.3 on the Richter scale in 1966, magnitude 5.1 in 1991 and yesterday’s magnitude 5.9 trembler. Earthquakes between magnitude 5.0 and 5.9 are classified as “moderate” quakes.
However, Felix told the local paper that the history of earthquakes in Sabah was too brief to enable accurate prediction, but said it was possible that there could be a repeat of yesterday’s quake.
Felix said his research from visits to the Ranau town, Kundasang area and Poring hot springs in the quake’s aftermath show that the epicentre was at the back of Mount Kinabalu, where over hundreds of climbers were stranded following rock avalanches and cracks in the mountain.
The earthquake yesterday would not have been considered serious if not for the stranded climbers and fatalities recorded, Felix reportedly said.
“Because many areas felt the tremors, including Kota Kinabalu, we initially thought the damage would be very big, but observations later showed that Kundasang and Ranau only has a number of seriously damaged buildings, but there are no landslides, so the damage is not considered big,” he told the Chinese-language paper.
Ranau is two-hours’ drive away from state capital Kota Kinabalu.
Two bodies were retrieved from Mount Kinabalu yesterday, with Ranau police confirming today that 173 out of 187 tourist climbers have been accounted for, while 17 remain missing.
Yesterday’s magnitude 5.9 earthquake some 16km north of Ranau rocked the famed Mount Kinabalu, causing cracks in its surface, damaging building structures including accommodation atop the mountain and covered its trails with fallen rocks.
Today, the search continues via land and air, with some 60 people going on foot at 5.30am and four helicopters dispatched at 6am to comb the area where the victims were last seen around KM6.5 to 7.5.
Bernama reported yesterday that the magnitude 5.9 quake in Ranau is the most severe earthquake in Malaysia since 1976 when Sabah’s Lahad Datu was hit rocked by a magnitude 5.8 event.
It also said four earthquakes had been reported in Ranau in the past 39 years, with one in 1989 at a magnitude of 5.6; 1991 (5.1); March 2005 (4.1) and in February 2010 (2.6).