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A man is treated after collapsing in Patong during the emergency

Close Shaves and Alerts Likely to Continue

Thursday, April 12, 2012
PHUKET: Reporter Sert Tongdee will be aiming to get his haircut finished today. He was sitting in a barber's chair when word came yesterday that a massive earthquake could be sending a tsunami towards Phuket.

As thousands of residents and tourists fled the holiday destinations along the west coast of Phuket, Sert sped towards the danger.

What he found was an evacuation exodus in progress.

There was no great chaos. But there was no sense of order, either. Word of mouth spread the news.

Tourists in Jungceylon shopping mall learned the important information from each other. There was a rush for the exit, just as tourists all along Phuket's coast were soon rushing for the exit.

The big plus for Phuket and the entire Andaman tsunami coast was the two-hour gap between the earthquake and the expected arrival of a potential tsunami.

Given time on a bright, sunny afternoon, even the slowest can be saved. As evacuations go, was it fast enough?

Well, yes and no. Roads quickly jammed, almost as fast as telephones.

Wal Brown, an International Liason Volunteer at Kathu Police Station, said the police did an efficient job in fanning out through Patong, telling people to evacuate.

''It went smoothly,'' he said. ''Their problem was that the roads were quickly choked.''

People drove out of Patong in their cars, then parked as close as possible to Patong once they reached higher ground. There was no sense of the need to keep roads open for hundreds of others who followed.

News updates were non-existent as mobile telephone services overloaded, then could not be used.

On a hilltop near Patong, a reader reported to Phuketwan ''Everyone was waiting for news info from local authorities. We never did hear.

''I met a couple with three small kids. They were staying at the Merlin Beach, behind Tri Trang beach.

''They had walked uphill because staff panicked without giving any explanation to them.

''Staff left or went for safety to the rooftop. These people got no help and were not able to climb up to the roof.

''They went outside to get a tuk-tuk from the normally oversupplied amount of tuk-tuks in front of the hotel. But the tuk-tuk drivers had already all fled to safety.''

Where some saw chaos and lack of information, others saw commonsense and coordination. At Laguna Phuket, guests evacuated to Cherng Talay without problems.

Only one casualty was reported - a man who collapsed, possibly from the excitement of it all, in a Patong street. By the time 5.40pm came, only journalists and emergency workers were on the shorefront at Patong.

A lone walker strode past close to the waves, oblivious to the fact that the beach had been cleared. There will always be a lone walker.

The tsunami towers? Some sounded, others did not. Because of the two-hour gap between the earthquake and the ''wave,'' there was no need for them.

The evacuation was being repeated with different degrees of efficiency all around the Andaman.

At Nam Khem, a fishing village in Phang Nga where 800 people died among the total number of 5400 tourists and residents who perished in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, everything went smoothy.

Practice makes perfect. Village leader Sathian Peachjiang said the people of Nam Khem follow tsunami warnings closely. They are always quickly aware whenever there's a danger.

They don't listen to local or national authorities. They tune to the National Disaster Warning Centre in Bangkok and the Asia Pacific Tsunami Warning centre in Hawaii.

''We had a horrible time in 2004,'' Khun Sathian said. ''When whole families are wiped out among your neighbors, you are constantly on your guard to make sure it doesn't happen again.

''We are on-guard 24 hours a day. The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation team in Phang Nga joins with us to make sure we always know if there's any danger.''

The tsunami will never be forgotten in Nam Khem by this generation or the next generation. But Khun Sathian said he feared other parts of Thailand that suffered less were less concerned.

''People who had direct experience of the 2004 tsunami at an official level have been moved on since,'' he said. ''So the memory of the devastation of the tsunami grows dimmer.

''The secret,'' he said, ''is to never forget. Not for a day, not for a single hour. The key to survival is eternal vigilance.''

Phuket, with its live-for-today approach to tourism and the future, really could do a lot more to make visitors feel more secure, whether or not a big wave comes next time.

The hope is that yesterday's lessons will be learned and taken to heart.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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I am just so happy no tsunami this time. The old one still stucks deep.

Posted by Lena on April 12, 2012 13:07

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"The tsunami towers? Some sounded, others did not. Because of the two-hour gap between the earthquake and the ''wave,'' there was no need for them."

Are you kidding? No need for Tsunami towers??? Its acceptable that some did not sound??? Rubbish Phuketwan!!!!!

Your article hints at improvements, but fails to offer any clear suggestions. At the resort where I work, the Tsunami tower sounded and we got everyone to high ground, almost 3000 people! Had the alarm not worked, we wouldnt have had the official impetus to distrupt and move everyone and it could have been devastating! We are learning how to improve our response and will write a handbook... and be glad to share with other resorts. Thank You for the article there are a few good points.

Posted by Jake on April 12, 2012 14:40

Editor Comment:

I'd suggest anyone who relies on the tsunami towers to clear a beach may have some good days, and some bad ones. There always has to be a plan that doesn't involve the towers, as with any item that doesn't come with a will-work-every-time guarantee. Lucky you, Jake.

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I agree. I was telling the GM and Owner it appears we will need to evacuate (meaning NOW) and then a few minutes later the alarm sounded. In 2004 there was 5 hours between the quake and the wave. Why did the officials predict only 2 hours this time? I would really like to get an answer to that! Anyways, its true that we musnt rely on the towers alone - we will have plans to contact all the authorities and start evacuations before the tower comes on. We do test the tower regularly, but we would not want to put so many lives at risk were it to fail. That being said, having the towers is definitely a great improvement for the region. They must be checked and tested regularly in all ways... and ideally they would be clearer because now the words coming out of them sound scrambled! When the alert was called off (with a message by the tower) after we told guests the tsunami would not come - then the guests panicked as they heard an alarm and could not make out the specific words coming through!!! It was too muffled!!! Then I heard from the Front office manager that it was an announcement calling off the warning - I went in the lobby and informed to everyone's relief..

Posted by J on April 12, 2012 15:44

Editor Comment:

Five hours? Memory is a strange thing, J. I reckon the tsunami took about two hours to reach Phuket in 2004, but longer to reach other places around the Indian Ocean.

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After the 2004 big Wave/tsunami, the held yearly tsunami "excercises", they were all well "orchestrated" fake imitations, nothing close to reality. Luckily yesterday nothing happened. But police, fire brigades, hotel-management, business-owners & LOCAL-government should be alerted now. I read & heard many stories what & where it went wrong with traffic/parking in and around Patong. Police should be more active in keeping the traffic going. Yesterday it was a mess in many places! I hope this real "Drill", will lead to better ways of organising in case off Emergency.

Posted by PhuketExpat on April 12, 2012 21:43

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The 2004 Indonesian earthquake happened roughly 8:00am local time, and the tsunami arrived at Patong beach 9:55am. Strange, but my calculator doesn't make that 5 hours either :-)

Posted by agogohome on April 18, 2012 08:44


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