PETALING JAYA: Although chances are remote, experts agree that the possibility of the big one hitting Kuala Lumpur cannot be ruled out.
Universiti Malaya Geology Department Assoc Prof Mustaffa Kamal Shuib said although Malaysia was located outside the Pacific Ring of Fire, an ancient fault line under Kuala Lumpur could reactivate due to tectonic pressure.
Three quarters of Earthâ€™s volcanoes and 90% of earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire, which also cuts across Indonesia and the Philippines.
Mustaffa said an earthquake happens when a fault line snaps and the vibrations at the epicentre is felt on the surface.
According to him, earthquakes have been recorded at other fault lines in peninsular Malaysia including Bukit Tinggi, Pahang (between 2007 and 2009), which run almost parallel to the KL fault line.
He said the Bukit Tinggi quakes, recorded between 1 and 3.6 on the Richter scale, were minor but a strong one at the epicentre there could devastate Kuala Lumpur.
Such a possibility was slim, said Mustaffa, adding that the strongest earthquake in the peninsula, which happened in Baling, Kedah, was recorded at 3.8 in 2013.
Advocating the need for preparedness, Mustaffa said he was not raising the issue to cause panic.
â€œI want to raise public awareness and get authorities to conduct studies on how better to protect buildings and high-rises in Kuala Lumpur,â€ he said.
Some structures in Malaysia, including the second Penang Bridge, are built to withstand earthquakes. The bridge reportedly can withstand tremors of 7.5 on the Richter scale.
Dhaka University professor of geology Dr Aftab Alam Khan said he respected Mustaffaâ€™s views and agreed that inactive fault lines could reactivate.
But he said peninsula Malaysia moved very slowly, between 11mm and 13mm annually, due to seismic pressure from the adjoining Ring of Fire and a massive earthquake was unlikely.
Dr Aftab, who is a research fellow at Universiti Malaya, said the Indian plate move up to 50mm every year and this could cause massive earthquakes in the Himalayas region.
â€œSeismogenic studies on KLâ€™s fault line must be conducted in order to determine if earthquakes could happen,â€ he said.
Malaysian Meteorological Department (Earthquake and Tsunami Centre) officer Azmi Atan said there had never been a quake here and their data suggested fault lines in most places in peninsula Malaysia were inactive.
â€œBut we cannot deny it can happen,â€ he said, adding that to date, Kuala Lumpur mostly feel tremors from massive earthquakes in Sumatra, which had very active fault lines.
Azmi said earthquakes could be detected but not predicted.
â€œThe bottom line is that we are not an earthquake-prone country,â€ he said.