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ID work underway on Phuket: Time to respect the real toll of 5400 victims

Phuket Journalists Saved 2600 Lives But Tsunami Toll Error Continues

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The Boxing Day tsunami was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. It caused serious damage to Thailand's west coast and killed more than 8000 people in Thailand.
dpa Bangkok Post, Wednesday, July 16, 2014

THE TSUNAMI did not kill 8000 people in Thailand. The toll was just under 5400.

Sadly, an official Thai government document, published to mark the first anniversary of the tsunami that struck Phuket and the Andaman coast on December 26, 2004, carried the wrong figure of 8000 . . . and the inaccuracy has been repeated over and over again ever since.

Working in the aftermath of the tsunami, a colleague and I clearly established that the author of the government document had simply made the mistake of adding the known death toll and the so called total of ''missing.''

The author failed to take account of the wonderful work of the Thai Tsunami Victims Identification unit.

As the police, dentists and pathologists identified nameless body after nameless body, the names should have come off the ''missing'' list.

Unfortunately, because of the lack of coordination between Thai government departments at the time, that didn't happen.

So the mistake was carried in Associated Press and other international news organisations. The false figure even appeared in the closing credits of the the film, 'The Impossible,' last year.

It really is time that Thailand celebrated the work of the international and Thai team that identified the vast majority of the victims, leaving only 388 people who have yet to be identified.

Their bodies are buried in a special cemetery in Phang Nga, north of Phuket, each in a concrete tomb and a metal coffin, to preserve as much DNA as possible.

After nine years of this mistake being repeated over and over again, without journalists checking it properly, if there is one thing we wish for the tenth anniversary this December, it's for the Thai Government to finally correct the mistake.

The death toll from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand is 5400, not 8000.

Phuketwan journalists have been trying to ''save'' those 2600 lives for years . . .

General Prayuth Chan-ocha and Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, after almost a decade, please, please help to get the tsunami death toll right.

Restore Thailand's reputation for accuracy.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Complaining about the number of lives and can't do math yourself. 8000 - 5400 = 2600 NOT 3000.

Posted by FS on July 16, 2014 18:39

Editor Comment:

True. But nobody cares.



Yes, the toll in Thailand , fortunately, was not that high.

Do you have, please, approximate updated breakdown by province?

My understanding that biggest hit was in Phang Nga Andaman coast ( Ban Nam Kem down to Pakweeb beach and Khuk Khaki beach - these being hit a hardest), and then appr. the same in Krabi (Phi Phi is.), with Phuket being the rest much smaller figure?

Posted by Sue on July 16, 2014 21:29

Editor Comment:

From memory, Phuket suffered about 330 deaths, Phi Phi 800, Ranong and mainland Krabi several hundred, Phang Nga most of the rest. Nam Khem, more than 800. Phuket became the name associated with the tsunami in Thailand. At the time it had 10 times the population of Phang Nga, yet Phang Nga suffered 10 times as many deaths as Phuket. So, sad though the deaths on the island were, it is in Phang Nga that memories of the tsunami cut deepest. Phuket doesn't care a lot. Yet nothing compares to Aceh . . .


I appreciate the use of journalists' license in referring to Thailand's reputation for accuracy.

Posted by geoff on July 16, 2014 22:44



Yes, not understanding geography of Thailand played a role of unfortunate misjudgment by prospective tourists ..

News about tsunami I got on early hangover flight from Rome on Boxing Day when all friends started to text me that I have to cancel my NY Thai holidays - but I was heading to Pattaya on 28th - and they knew it, but nobody understood a difference between Gulf of Thailand and west Andaman coast - only my GF's mother trusted me that I will not bring her daughter with me to a disaster zone.
I checked via few sources that earthquake has not caused even suspected damage in Pattaya and then head off there.
The only sign of tsunami in Pattaya streets were number of tourists with PhangNga T-shirt themes , apparently just from that area .
Everyone in sane mind understood at that time that the best you can do in your capacity as a tourist is not to abandon a country when they are in need of tourists , although in other its part of country , than disaster epicenter.
Friends texted me that if I donate some money then I should do that on their behalf too, they'll repay.
I did, although I was suspicious of that night shift reception staff that they may steal all those donations as they had a habit not to issue currency exchange receipts , unlike a day shift..

After NY I was planning to go to Paradise Koh Yao and then to Borneo.
Although Paradise Koh Yao had no damage at all - it was even featured on CNN - it's staff advised me "better to come on later occasion" - the advice that I took, assuming they will not give a bad one to a regular patron.
So I cancelled all this part, although I was ready to go.

For years I've been asked about "tsunami in Pattaya", bar Phuket..

First time I went to Khao Lak in beginning 2007 - people still were rebuilding their lives: a lot of construction , setting shops etc. - and they were really glad to see tourists coming! And they were very serious, not the kind of Thais from party towns.

I was on Phi Phi in 2004 April - this was a worst ever greedy place I ever been at that time. After tsunami everything changed there - attitude, prices , greedy vibe went off, when in 2006 I went on next visit to PhiPhi.

Unfortunately, today PhiPhi greed rate again is so high, and is far above pre-Tsunami level .
And Khao Lak during last year underwent very rapid Phuketization: if still in 2013 all taxi queues were silent - understanding that tourists coming there for difference with Phuket's "u-want-tuktuktaxi-where-you-are-going", in 2014 it is changed - still not exactly Phuket, but on the way ; and quality of food in restaurants rapidly depreciated too, quality and fresh Thai food/seafood can be found only in few restaurants , although there are so many of F&B outlets, but they serve "crab stick salad" quality.
Seafood - albeit being apparently not fresh - is offered close to prices to restaurants in Wynn in LasVegas.

May be some drop of tourists numbers this year will help repair not only Phuket beaches but other things in Phuket and its vicinity , like attitude ..

And hopefully reliable buoys and other tsunami reaction system elements are upgraded an properly and finely tested and maintained, as that evacuation , that was two years ago, was not of really good standard.

Posted by Sue on July 17, 2014 02:06


The PN published today:

"After the tsunami ??? which killed some 800 people in Phuket, and around 6,000 in Khao Lak "

Oh no, how did they make such count?? Today!

Posted by Sue on July 17, 2014 16:56

Editor Comment:

Today rubbish. These are figures that every journalist on Phuket should know. The Government must be able to get them right, surely.

Sunday November 29, 2020
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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