Earth tremors in Singapore

There are no records of earthquakes occurring in Singapore, as the island is located outside earthquake zones. However, Singapore does periodically experience low-level earth tremors caused by earthquakes in Sumatra, Indonesia. Occasionally, these tremors may cause buildings to sway, but they are not serious enough to affect the structural integrity of buildings or result in property damage.

Singapore's geography and earthquakes
Singapore is situated outside earthquake zones, and lies away from the margins of tectonic plates.1 The nearest earthquake zone is located in Sumatra, Indonesia, about 400 km away from Singapore.2

Although there are no records of earthquakes occurring in Singapore, earthquakes in Sumatra have induced tremors in Singapore on many occasions.3 Areas in the central and eastern regions of Singapore have generally been more affected by tremors, as they are situated on softer sedimentary materials such as old alluvium and marine clay.4 Areas in the western part of Singapore are situated on harder rock, which has a dampening effect on the seismic waves from earthquakes.5

Generally, Singapore experiences low-level tremors that may cause furniture to move and buildings to sway. These tremors, however, are not serious enough to impact the structural safety of buildings, as the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA’s) building codes – which are periodically reviewed – dictate that all buildings must be built to withstand vibrations and shocks from earthquakes.6 In 2013, the BCA adopted the Eurocodes, which is a new set of building codes that includes guidelines on ensuring that new buildings are earthquake-resistant.7 Hence, it is highly unlikely that tremors will cause buildings or highways in Singapore to collapse.8

On average, Singapore is affected by tremors from Sumatran earthquakes once or twice a year.9


Earliest recorded earth tremors felt in Singapore
One of the earliest recorded tremors in Singapore’s history occurred on 24 November 1833. A shock that lasted for more than a minute was felt at 8.45 pm, followed by two slighter shocks at 3 am and 4.30 am.10 The shock was more perceptible in Kampong Glam than in the town area, and caused the punkah (a manually operated ceiling fan; derived from a Hindi word) in some houses to move.11

The tremor was caused by a large earthquake in Sumatra, possibly a result of a volcanic eruption.12 Tremors were also felt in Penang and Malacca.13


2004 and 2007 tremors
While tremors are periodic occurrences in Singapore, happening about once or twice a year, more tremors were felt in 2004 and 2007.

In 2004, Singapore experienced four instances of tremors, all resulting from earthquakes in Sumatra. On 22 February, tremors occurred at 2.50 pm and lasted between five and 45 seconds, affecting areas such as Punggol, Tanjong Rhu, Rochor, Bishan, Woodlands, Toa Payoh and Marine Parade.14

On 12 May, tremors affected buildings at Beach Road, Jalan Besar and St George's Lane. The tremors were felt at about 4.30 pm, and lasted about 30 seconds. With the the memory of the nearby Nicoll Highway collapse on 20 April the previous month still fresh in people’s minds and fearing a similar incident, about 200 tenants  evacuated from the shops and offices in Golden Mile Tower and Golden Mile Complex. BCA engineers later reassured tenants that the tremors were caused by a Sumatran earthquake, and had no connection with the Nicoll Highway collapse.15

Tremors were again felt on 25 July as a result of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Indonesia. Occurring at 10.30 pm, these tremors affected parts of central and eastern Singapore. Police received 37 calls from the public regarding the tremors.16

There were also mild tremors occurring on the morning of 26 December, following the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra.17 Most Singaporeans were undisturbed by the tremors, which were felt in Tanjong Rhu, Marine Parade, Toa Payoh, Siglap and Meyer Road.18 Police received about 13 calls from the affected areas, but no injuries were reported.19

The year 2007 saw six instances of tremors – two occurring on the same day in March, three in September and one in November – again due to earthquakes in Sumatra.20 The first two instances occurred on 6 March. The first tremor was felt at 11.49 am, followed by a second one at 1.49 pm, caused by a Sumatran earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people were evacuated from buildings in many locations across the island, including the Central Business District, Sengkang and Ang Mo Kio.21 Around 1,600 students at St Andrew’s Junior College in Potong Pasir were told to take the remainder of the day off.22 BCA engineers inspected the affected buildings after the tremors, but did not find any damage.23

September 2007 was marked by three instances of tremors, with two occurring on 12 and 13 September. The 12 September tremor occurred at 7.10 pm, and caused thousands of people in Singapore to rush out of offices and homes. The tremor was spawned from a massive 8.4-magnitude earthquake that struck off Bengkulu province in Sumatra, which affected many countries around the region and sparked tsunami warnings.24 The second tremor occurred the next morning and was felt in the Central Business District, Marine Parade, Clementi and Woodlands. It was caused by an earthquake occurring in the same area as the previous one, but with a smaller magnitude of 7.5. The police and Singapore Civil Defence Force received about 500 calls regarding the tremor.25

The third instance of tremor in September – caused by a 6.6-magnitude earthquake in West Sumatra – occurred on 20 September at 4.30 pm, primarily affecting residents in St George’s Lane, Marine Parade and Katong.26

On 25 November at around 10.51 am, there were reports of shocks felt in Kampong Glam, Whampoa, Farrer Road and Katong, caused by a 6.5-magnitude earthquake occurring 175 km from Bengkulu.27

Government initiatives
In 1996, the Meteorological Service Division of the National Environment Agency set up a seismic monitoring network to detect earthquakes in the region and monitor ground movements in Singapore. The network currently consists of eight stations placed around the island to gather relevant data. The data is then transmitted to a central processing system, which integrates the local data with regional information obtained from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.The data enables scientists to study the crust’s structure and understand how it responds to seismic waves.28

As part of a pilot project in July 2006, the BCA installed tremor sensors in six buildings in eastern and central Singapore to record tremor intensity. An alert in the form of short message service (SMS) is sent to the BCA monitoring system whenever a tremor is recorded. More buildings were subsequently fitted with the tremor sensors.29

Since 2007, tremor sensors have also been installed in Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks. The HDB would be alerted via a text message whenever a sensor detects seismic vibrations. About 46 blocks have been fitted with these sensors.30


Timeline of selected earth tremors in Singapore
Oct 1837:
Tremors reported were possibly the result of an earthquake in Sumatra, which also brought about a “large wave that broke on the seashore at Teluk Ayer”.31
6 Jan 1843: Earth tremors were reportedly felt “half an hour after midnight” on 6 January 1843.32
16 Jan 1861: A minute-long “earthquake” was felt at 7.30 pm. The shocks were also felt in Malacca and Penang.33
17 May 1892: An earth tremor at 8.15 pm shook buildings, including the Central Police Station and the Tanglin Barracks.34
3 Jun 1909: An earth tremor was felt at 1.45 am; there were at least two distinct shocks.35
26 Jun 1914: The Straits Times reported an earth tremor at Tanjong Rhu.36
31 Jan 1922: An earth tremor was felt at 9 am in Singapore and many parts of the Federated Malay States.37  
7 Feb 1922:
A tremor lasting a few seconds was reportedly felt at Tanjong Katong at 12.15 pm. Johor Bahru also felt the shock.38
28 Jun 1926: Tremors were reported at 10.22 am and 1 pm.39
28 Dec 1935: Tremors were felt at about 10 am at Robinson Road, Teluk Anson in Ipoh, and several towns in Sumatra, possibly due to an earthquake in India.40
13 Jan 1948: A five-second tremor at 10.50 am was reported.41
28 Dec 1948: Strong earth tremors lasting about 30 seconds occurred at around 10.30 pm. These were more strongly felt on the western side of Singapore.42
15 Mar 1952: A 10-second tremor in the southern part of Singapore was reported at around 6.50 pm.43
31 Dec 1962: A tremor lasting a few seconds was reported at 6.35 pm, affecting Telok Kurau, Malay Street and South Canal Road. The tremor was also felt in Kuala Lumpur.44
4 Feb 1971: Tremors occurred at about 11.10 pm, and were felt throughout the island. Lasting about 30 seconds to a minute, the tremors were also felt in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Port Swettenham.45
18 Dec 1972: A minor earth tremor at 10.10 pm shook houses in Beach Road and Katong.46
8 Jan 1975: A two-minute tremor was felt in Whampoa Drive, causing about 600 residents from five HDB blocks to run out of their flats.47
23 Apr 1975: A class of students from the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School at Emerald Hill fled from their classroom after feeling an earth tremor at about 10.50 am.48
9 Mar 1977: An earthquake off Sumatra set off strong tremors that were felt in Whampoa, Toa Payoh, Chai Chee and Marine Parade at around 6.55 am.49
20 Aug 1977: A 7.7-magnitude earthquake south of the Indonesian island of Sunbawa struck at about 1.45 pm, setting off several earth tremors, each lasting several seconds.50
17 Nov 1984: Tremors caused by a 7.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra were felt in Toa Payoh, Whampoa, Rochor Road, Amber Road and Marine Parade.51
12 Aug 1986: Tremors – caused by a 5.5-magnitude earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra – at around 1.20 pm led office workers and residents to rush out of high-rise buildings. The tremors were felt in Robinson Road, Raffles Place, Marine Parade, South Bridge Road, Beach Road, Jalan Besar and Toa Payoh.52
2 Jul 1991: A series of tremors caused by a 5.5-magnitude earthquake in West Sumatra occurred at around 1.20 pm, causing many workers to rush out of their offices.53
16 Feb 1994: A 6.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the mountain town of Liwa in Sumatra caused tremors at around 1.15 am. The tremors – lasting between five and 30 seconds – were felt in the central and eastern parts of Singapore.54
11 May 1994: Tremors were felt at about 4.20 pm in the city area, following a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in Sumatra.55
7 Oct 1995: Tremors from a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in the Jambi province in central Sumatra jolted many people out of their sleep at around 2 am.56
29 Mar 2005: An 8.7-magnitude temblor in the Indian Ocean caused strong tremors that were felt by people in many areas of Singapore and affected over 200 buildings.57
30 Sep–1 Oct 2009: Two rounds of tremors occurred: the first at 6.15 pm on 30 September, lasting up to two minutes, and the second at 9.52 am the next day. These were caused by two earthquakes in Sumatra measuring 7.6 and 6.8 respectively on the Richter scale. Tremors were also felt in parts of Malaysia.58
11 Apr 2012: A series of tremors, each lasting two to three minutes, were reported at around 5 pm after an 8.6-magnitude earthquake struck off Indonesia. The tremors shook high-rise buildings and were felt in many areas across Singapore.59




Authors

Vina Jie-Min Prasad & Jaime Koh



References
1. Peter K. L. Ng, Richard T. Corlett and Hugh T. W. Tan, Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2011), 43 (Call no. RSING 333.95095957 SIN); Tan Hoon Wee, “Singapore Is Not in Earthquake Belt,” Straits Times, 4 October 1999, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Tracy Sua and Benjamin Ho, “Panic Stations,” Straits Times, 30 March 2005, 41; Malarvizhi Dinesh, “No Danger Here of Soil Liquefying,” Straits Times, 9 June 2000, 70; Teh Joo Lin and Rachel Chan, “When the Earth Shook,” Straits Times, 12 April 2005, 1; Dominic Nathan, “Flats and Bridges Built to Withstand Shock Waves,” Straits Times, 30 October 1989, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Earthquakes,” National Environment Agency, accessed 3 June 2013; Tso-Chien Pan and Jichun Sun Pan, “Historical Earthquakes Felt in Singapore,” Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 86, no. 4 (1996), 1173–8; Dinesh, “No Danger Here of Soil Liquefying”; Foong Chee Leong and N. Subhas, “Tsunami Unlikely But Singapore Is Prepared,”Straits Times, 29 October 2005, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Why Only Parts of S’pore Felt the Quake...,” Today, 30 March 2005, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Jessica Cheam and Michelle Neo, “Singapore’s Seismic Scares,” Straits Times, 10 March 2007, 79; “Why Only Parts of S’pore Felt the Quake...,” Today, 30 March 2005, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Pan and Pan, “Historical Earthquakes Felt in Singapore,” 1173–8; “Buildings ‘Can Take Tremors’,” Straits Times, 12 April 2005, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Christopher Tan, “New Buildings to Be More Quake-Resistant under New Guidelines,” Straits Times, 8 April 2013, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Derwin Pereira, “Major Quake Out of Question: Geologist,” Straits Times, 25 January 1994, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Cheam and Neo, “Singapore’s Seismic Scares.”
10. Charles Burton Buckley, An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 684 (Call no. RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); “Singapore, Thursday, 23th November. 1833,” Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, 28 November 1833, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 231; “Singapore, Thursday, 23th November. 1833.”
12. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 231.
13. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 231.
14. Joy Frances, “Quake in Sumatra Felt in East and Central S’pore,” Today, 23 February 2004, 2; K. C. Vijayan, “Strong Quake in Sumatra Felt in Singapore,” Straits Times, 23 February 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Ng Shing Yi and Raymond Andrew, “Tremors at Golden Mile,” Today, 12 May 2004, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Tremors Felt in Central, Eastern S’pore,” Straits Times, 26 July 2004, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Jose Raymond, “Tremors Felt in Many Parts of Singapore,” Today, 27 December 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Maria Almenoar, “Some Tremors Prompt Calls, But No Injuries,” Straits Times, 27 December 2004, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Raymond, “Tremors Felt in Many Parts of Singapore.” 
20. “Sumatra’s 6.5-Magnitude Quake Felt in Parts of Singapore,” Today, 26 November 2007, 10; “Tremors from Indon Quake Felt in Singapore Again,” Today, 21 September 2007, 10; Sumathi V Selvaretnam and Arti Mulchand, “Tremors Send S’poreans Scurrying Again,” Straits Times, 14 September 2007, 8 (From NewspaperSG); “Sumatra’s 6.5-Magnitude Quake Felt.” 
21. Jessica Cheam and T. Rajan, “Singapore Buildings are Safe, Say Engineers,” Straits Times, 8 March 2007, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Offices and Schools Evacuated in S’pore,” Straits Times, 7 March 2007, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Cheam and Rajan, “Singapore Buildings are Safe.”
24. Mathew Thompson, “8.4 Quake Off Sumatra Sparks Panic, Regional Tsunami Alert,” Straits Times, 13 September 2007, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Sheralyn Tay, “Another Powerful Quake This Morning,” Today, 13 September 2007, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Selvaretnam and Mulchand, “Tremors Send S’poreans Scurrying.” 
26. “Tremors from son Quake Felt.” 
27. “Sumatra’s 6.5-Magnitude Quake Felt.” 
28. “Seismic Monitoring,” National Environment Agency, accessed 3 June 2013; “EOS Takes First Steps towards Assessing Seismic Hazard in Singapore,” Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, accessed 8 January 2013.
29. Tan Hui Leng, “SMS Triggers Tremor Alert,” Today, 3 May 2008, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Amelia Tan Hui Fang and Lee Jia Xin, “HDB Blocks Fitted with Tremor Sensors,” Straits Times, 2 May 2012, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 684; “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), 19 October 1837, 1 (From NewspaperSG); John Anderson, Acheen, and the Ports on the North and East Coast of Sumatra: With Incidental Notices of the Trade in the Eastern Seas and the Aggressions of the Dutch (London: W. H. Allen, 1840), 22. (From BookSG)
32. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 684.
33. Buckley, Anecdotal History of Old Times, 684.
34. “Last Night’s Earthquake,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 24 May 1892, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “Earthquake Shock,” Straits Times, 4 June 1909, 7; “The Recent Earthquake,” Straits Times, 9 June 1909, 7; “An Earthquake,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 5 June 1909, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “Was It An Earthquake?” Straits Times, 26 June 1914, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “The Earthquake Shock,” Straits Times, 1 February 1922, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
38. “Another Earth Tremor,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 February 1922, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
39. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 29 June 1926, 8; “Earthquake Tremors,” Straits Times, 28 June 1926, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
40. “Singapore Rocked By ’Quake,” Straits Times, 29 December 1935, 1; “Shock in Robinson Road,” Straits Times, 28 December 1935, 12; “Earth Tremor Also Felt in Neighbouring Island,” Straits Times, 30 December 1935, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
41. “Earth Tremor in S’pore,” Singapore Free Press, 13 January 1948, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “‘Queer Things’ in Singapore Earth Tremor,” Straits Times, 29 December 1948, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “10-Second Earthquake Felt in Singapore,” Straits Times, 16 March 1952, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
44. “Earth Tremors Shake Malaya,” Straits Times, 1 January 1963, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
45. “A Night of Shocks,” Straits Times, 5 February 1971, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
46. “Tremor in Katong and Beach Road,” Straits Times, 19 December 1972, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
47. “‘Tremors’ at HDB flats: 600 Flee,” Straits Times, 9 January 1975, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
48. “Pupils Flee Mystery Classroom Tremor,” Straits Times, 24 April 1975, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
49. “Tremors Cause Scare in S’pore,” Straits Times, 10 March 1977, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
50. “Tremors also felt in S’pore,” Straits Times, 20 August 1977, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
51. “Quake Near Sumatra Sends Tremors Over,” Straits Times, 18 November 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
52. “Lunchtime Tremors Send Hundreds Fleeing,” Straits Times, 13 August 1986, 8; “Buildings Safe, Says Ministry,” Straits Times, 14 August 1986, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
53. Elaine Tan, “Mild Tremors Hit Parts of Singapore,” Straits Times, 3 July 1991, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
54. David Miller, “I Thought Building Was Going to Collapse, Says Jln Sultan Resident,” Straits Times, 17 February 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
55. Tan Ooi Boon, “Tremors Force Workers to Leave Their Offices,” Straits Times, 12 May 1994, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
56. Zheng Ren, “Tremor Shakes Buildings, Wakes Residents, Rattles Furniture in Many Areas,” Straits Times, 8 October 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
57. Sua and Ho, “Panic Stations.” 
58. Amresh Gunasingham, Teh Joo Lin and Carolyn Quek, “S’pore Feels New Quake Tremors,” Straits Times, 2 October 2009, 13; Teh Joo Lin and Elizabeth Looi, “Sumatra Quake: Tremors Felt in Singapore and KL,” Straits Times, 1 October 2009, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
59. Elizabeth Soh, “Tremors Felt in Various Parts of Singapore,” Straits Times, 12 April 2012, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)



The information in this article is valid as of 14 October 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

 

 

 

 










Subject
Events
Earthquakes--Singapore