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Indian Ocean tsunamis: environmental and socio-economic impacts in Langkawi, Malaysia

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We report the results of a study of the physical characteristics and socio-economic impacts of the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 26 December 2004 on the tourist island of Langkawi, Malaysia. In comparison with many other locations struck by the tsunami, the immediate physical and socio-economic impacts in Langkawi were relatively minor. A detailed survey of the watermark and ground elevations was undertaken in the worst affected area between Sungei Kuala Teriang and Sungei Kuala Melaka. Here, the tsunami reached a maximum elevation of 4.29 m as it crossed the coast, with a maximum flow depth of 2.0 m and a very consistent run-up elevation relative to mean sea level of 300 ± 10 cm. The tsunami inundated inshore areas for 300 m and penetrated inland along creeks for 500–1000 m. Structural damage to buildings was confined to within 50–150 m of the shoreline where about 10% of the houses were completely destroyed and 60–70% suffered significant structural damage. Damage was particularly severe in areas where there was no engineered coastal protection, but while coastal revetments did provide enhanced protection for houses at the waterfront, the coastline in the study area appeared to be more heavily impacted than elsewhere in Langkawi because wave energy was focused on the area by offshore breakwaters built to protect the Langkawi port and airport. Emergency response after the tsunami was rapid and efficient but would have been improved if the local police station had not been rendered inoperative by the first wave, and if a mechanism had been in place to ensure that informal advance warnings transmitted between Phuket (Thailand), Langkawi and Penang (Malaysia) by tourist operators could have been more widely disseminated.

Keywords: Langkawi; Malaysia; emergency response; mangrove; reduction of vulnerability; relief; tourism; tsunami

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Geography and Geosciences, Irvine Building, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AL, Email: 2: Sea Level Research Laboratory, Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316, USA 3: 4 Green Crescent, 11600 Penang, Malaysia 4: Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang 11800, Malaysia 5: Humanities and Social Studies Education Academic Group, National institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 637 616 Singapore

Publication date: June 1, 2007


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