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Exodus from Patong: hundreds flock to the hills in a tsunami scare

Phuket Earthquake, Tsunami Planning: Time for a Real Shakeup

Thursday, May 10, 2012
PHUKET: A planning meeting was underway today on Phuket to make sure that the flaws in Phuket's disaster preparedness are overcome before the next tsunami alert.

Earthquakes of the kind that rocked Phuket five days after last month's tsunami evacuation were also being looked at by senior Bangkok officials and representatives from Phuket and the five other Andaman coastal provinces.

Vice Governor Jamleran Tipayapongtada chaired the meeting at the Metropole Hotel in Phuket City with the Permanent Secretary of the Interior Ministry, Gen Chalong Somjai, and the Director General of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Wiboon Snaowpong, in attendance.

With them were key people from all the provinces affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed 5400 tourists and residents in Thailand in December, 2004.

In the years after that disaster, tsunami towers were built and practice drills were implemented but the real alert on April 11 proved that the system didn't work very well.

Mobile telephone networks failed, so communication wasn't possible via voice calls or SMS. Phuket's west coast tourist destinations evacuated spasmodically, with word-of-mouth being the main means of alerting people to the danger.

In some places, the tsunami tower sirens sounded. In other places, the sirens failed to work. Broadcast vans could not move against the flow of the evacuation.

Authorities at Phuket International Airport eventually evacuated all 1500 passengers and staff to a safe place that could really only hold 1000, and without ready access to water or food.

Chaos was caused on the roads as people jammed the exit routes to escape, parking vehicles on the hilltops and making incoming access - by ambulance and rescue services in a real disaster - virtually impossible.

A strong aftershock followed the first magnitude 8.6 earthquake, so people who had fled were forced to wait for as long as four hours before being sure it was safe to return.

When the tsunami towers sounded the all-clear, nobody could tell whether it was safe to return because the all-clear and the warning were the same sound.

On April 16, a second haphazard evacuation took place after a loud earthquake alarmed all of Phuket. The 4.3 tremor was centred on Phuket, but tourists and residents feared it could have been offshore and a tsunami could be on the way. Without clear information, they all took to the hills again.

Damage was limited to cracks in hundreds of Phuket houses and there were no injuries, but the two events have given authorities good reason to reassess planning, preparations and execution of evacuations.

Revised plans to prevent a repetition of communications failing and to ease chaos in future evacuations are expected to be revealed within the next few weeks, if not days.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


nobody could tell whether it was safe to return because the all-clear and the warning were the same sound.


Posted by Simon Luttrell on May 10, 2012 19:42


My wife and I were at Baan Krating Resort Khaolak when the sunami alert sound from the tower far away. People rushed from the lower area uphill to this resort. After more than three hours people began to go back to the beach level.Then tsunami towers sounded the all-clear and people began to run back uphill. Are these warning signals some kind of bad joke? I have pictures of people with small children very upset at this. Simon - this is not unbelievable!

Posted by Retired roadworker on May 11, 2012 13:21

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