Earthquakes, torrential rains, landslides greet Southeast Asian year-end festivities


Just as the West greets the year-end holiday season with snowflakes and gale winds, Southeast Asia is becoming used to greeting the year end with reminders of the 2004 year-end deadly tsunami that killed an estimated 180,000 people across the region.

Indonesia, which bore the brunt of the 2004 tsunami tragedy, was jolted when the country’s meteorology and geophysics department reported two quakes between December 23 to 26.

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Amid ceremonies taking place from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand to mark the 2004 tsunami, Northern Sumatra was jolted by a moderate earthquake, measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale on December 23.

This was followed by a report from the US Geological Survey Service (USGS), confirming that the eastern province of Indonesia’s Papua was also hit by an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale on December 26.

‘It was a strong quake. If it had struck a village or town, it would have had an impact,” said Suhardjono, an Indonesian meteorology and geophysics official. “So far we have not received any reports of casualties or damage.”

Meanwhile, following seasonal heavy tropical rains and high tides, which some officials blame on heavy deforestation, thousands of people in Tawangmangu, Karanganyar and Wonogirl districts of Central Java have been forced to flee and seek shelter on higher ground. It is estimated that officials have estimated that up to 80 people may have been buried under a landslide in Central Java after hours of torrential rain.

Local TV footage shows people wading through chest-high flood water, clutching their belongings above their heads. “The landslide took us by surprise,” said Julianto, a local government official to newsmen. “This is the first time in 25 years anything this scale has occurred in Central Java.”

An Indonesian official told reporters it is difficult to send help to the affected areas because of inaccessibility, but has confirmed that the government has deployed the military in rescue work.

In Malaysia, seasonal floods in Pahang , Kelantan, Kedah and Johor states have resulted in high tides, forcing evacuation of up to 20,000 people. Road closures which have cut off towns along major roadways in the country are now passable to normal traffic.

Schools that have been turned into evacuation centers during the schools holidays are expected to open as scheduled for the new school year. “There was no severe damage to schools during the floods,” said a Malaysian official.