The impact of the unusually severe drought associated with the 1997–1998 El Niño on tropical forest dynamics in Sarawak, Malaysia was examined. Mortality during the non-drought period (1993–1997) in a core plot (1.38 ha) was 0.89 % y−1, while that during the drought period (1997–1998) in the same plot and a peripheral plot was 6.37 and 4.35 % y−1, respectively. The basal area lost in the drought interval was 3.4 times that of the annual incremental basal area in 1993–1997. Drought mortality was higher for the smaller trees, though it was less size dependent than the non-drought mortality. Dipterocarpaceae, which is the dominant family in the study plot, had a mortality 12–30 times higher in the drought than the non-drought period. There were no significant differences in mortality among the topographic types. From the results of a log-linear model (multi-factored contingency table), the death of trees was correlated with size class, indicating a change in the size-class structure of the forest. Thus, both the species composition and structure are totally affected by such an episodic drought even in a per-humid tropical forest.