Air pollution in Malaysia's administrative capital of Putrajaya slipped into the "unhealthy" range as choking haze moved into the country's densely populated center from brush fires in neighboring Indonesia.
An official in the Malaysian coastal town of Kuala Selangor said Friday that authorities there have activated a disaster relief operations center to deal with the twin threats of haze and potential flash floods from weekend high tides.
"It will be an anxious weekend," the Star newspaper on Thursday quoted District Officer Abdul Malik Mohamad Amin as saying. "We pray for the best, but our evacuation centers, the police, the food supply missions and other supporting parties are all ready to face the challenge."
Abdul Malik could not immediately be reached for further details. A district official in the operations room, speaking on condition anonymity due to policy, confirmed the report, saying officers and volunteers were monitoring the situation.
The haze is caused each year by fires in Indonesia, and sometimes Malaysia, started by farmers to clear brush during planting season, many of them on Indonesia's Sumatra island and in Kalimantan province, Indonesia's portion of Borneo island.
By Thursday night, only three of Malaysia's 51 air quality monitoring stations registered clean air. Malaysia's official Air Pollutant Index or API designates readings of one to 50 as "clean," and 50-100 as "moderate."
Fifteen stations were in the "unhealthy" zone, with readings of above 101 _ a level at which residents are urged to restrict outdoor activities.
Among them was the administrative capital of Putrajaya, the tourist port of Malacca and the urban center of Seremban.
Malaysia's largest city, Kuala Lumpur, and its outlying townships of Petaling Jaya and Kajang, were all edging closer to the unhealthy zone Thursday night, Malaysia's Environmental Department said on its Web site.
Nearly 200 hotspots and moderate to heavy smoke on Sumatra island and Kalimantan were detected by Singapore's Meteorological Services Division late Thursday, according to satellite images posted on its Web site.
The worst case of smoke-induced haze in Southeast Asia occurred in 1997-98. It blanketed much of the region and was blamed for losses of nearly US$9 billion in lost tourism, health and business costs.
Separately, the Education Ministry said it would close schools if API levels reach "hazardous" levels, above 300.
Education minister Hishamuddin Hussein said teachers should, for now, use their own discretion about exempting any student affected with asthma or other respiratory problems from outdoor activities and sports.