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Not a jet-ski in sight: Patong beach awaiting the tsunami deadline today

Phuket Tourists Abandoned as Resort and Restaurant Workers Fled 'Tsunami'

Wednesday, April 11, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: Workers in Patong restaurants and Phuket resorts abandoned their posts and fled the ''tsunami'' today, leaving tourists to their fate. Fortunately, the ''tsunami'' didn't arrive.

But the desertion by resort and restaurant workers without a care for the fate of others is deeply disturbing.

Even though many workers did stay at their posts, the desertions should alarm local authorities as well as officials in tourism.

Sadly, more than seven years after the 2004 tsunami killed 5400 tourists and residents around the Andaman, Phuket still hasn't learned its lesson.

There were tourists today on Phuket beaches, we were told by resort managers, who declined to leave - because they didn't understand what the fuss was about.

This is Phuket's biggest problem when it comes to disaster preparedness. There is no preparedness.

Tourists are not told when they come to Phuket that they are entering a tsunami zone, and resort staff are not trained to do their job diligently in a crisis.

Living in denial is where many people prefer, rather than living on Phuket with the reality of the December 26, 2004 tsunami firmy in mind forever.

To have restaurant and resort workers flee without care is alarming. So is the tragic Phuket postcard scene of a tourist being told a tsunami is coming, and declining to leave the beach.

But then, disaster preparedness is not one of Phuket's strong suits.

There have been no lifeguards on Phuket's most popular beaches since April 2, when the annual contract expired.

Lifeguards understand what a tsunami alert is all about. They would have been quick to warn reluctant tourists on Phuket's beaches today.

But then, Phuket doesn't consider their presence absolutely essential. Nor, apparently, are tsunami warning signs considered esential.

Which way do you run? Who cares? Not local authorities.

Just last week, a Patong councillor made a fuss at a municipality meeting about Patong's signs. Many of them have faded and fallen down, along with the scores of blue-and-white tsunami warnings that went up all over Phuket in the aftermath of the tsunami. Many have since been allowed to rust away, or been souvenired.

Gone . . . and forgotten.

There are other signs, though, signs that show people don't really care about the lessons of the past. Greed and self-interest are more popular.

After people died needlesly from head wounds on Phuket's beaches in the 2004 tsunami, it was decided that heavy wooden loungers would be banned.

Yet when five-star resorts illegally occupy Phuket's beaches, as they have done in the past few months, what do the greedy resort managers put on the sand?

Heavy wooden loungers, the bigger the better, some of them double-bed size.

Over the next few days, there will be many individual stories told, both good and bad, of today's tsunami alert.

There were certainly resort managers whom Phuketwan spoke to tonight who thought the evacuation process had gone relatively smoothly. But that wasn't the universal experience.

To us, it was fortunate that the alarm came in daylight and that the word got around.

We ask, as we have continued to ask for the past four years: if a real tsunami comes in the middle of the night, who will awaken the tourists asleep in their resorts on Phuket and along the Andaman coast?

If the staff at some Phuket resorts and restaurants chose today to flee for their lives without concern for others, how will the authorities guarantee the safety of tourists on Phuket when there is another tsunami alert?

And the one certainty, as history is telling us loudly, is that there will be a next time.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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I was swimming at Nai Harn today when I saw hotel come on to the beach and start talking to guest's who then started leaving the beach. I came ashore and asked what is the problem. I was told about the warning. I headed back to my truck and informed many people still on the beach oblivious too what was happening. So I take the tower on Nai Harn dose not work or did they not use it. Total shambles as usual.

Posted by rich on April 11, 2012 23:14

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Not sure where the words 'abandoning,' 'fleeing' and 'desertion' comes in to it, to be honest. As your story says, many DID stay. There was a lot of panic today and anyone who WAS here in 2004 is probably warranted in heading for the hills. Fortunately it turned out to be a damp squib. Things in Kamala seemed to have worked quite well but as of 2320 tonight things remain subdued, with a lot of places still closed.

Posted by Mister Ree on April 11, 2012 23:21

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I would really recommend to build an emergency sms service into the in-danger areas. That a sms can be send to all connected mobiles in this areas. It is really easy to do. Just get to the base stations and every registered mobile on it get the message. SMS is a low bandwidth service, so the lines will not break down and all phones will know. Together with sirens even at 3 am that should do a lot of good in alerting the people and is very cheap as it costs next to nothing.

Posted by Lena on April 11, 2012 23:43

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The Hotel Staff "fled the scene"! Come on, are you all noobs here? This is typical 'not my promblem'!

Posted by Bo on April 12, 2012 03:56

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People visiting Hawaii are not told that the possibility of a tsunami exists either - but Hawaii is better prepared.

Posted by larry on April 12, 2012 06:17

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I am sorry to confirm the article. I witnessedi hotel staff just running off and not caring about anything. A clear lack of responsibility and also loyalty. In case of a real disaster, it probably would be a similar confusion as in 2004. People just don't use their brain. BTW, DTAC sent their warning when the alert was lifted...

Posted by Resident on April 12, 2012 06:27

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@ Lena
There is a emergency SMS service!
I received mine from AIS at 18.42 hrs... a little late i guess if there would have been a Tsunami

Posted by Mr. K on April 12, 2012 07:02

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I am a foreigner lving in Phuket and it was SO difficult as Phuket has no dedicated news channel for tourists. Thus getting second hand instructions in broken english made it very distressing. Phuket needs to look into a 24 hour news channel dedicated to tourists. The tourism channel and all of the news stations were paying the royal funeral and there was no mention as to what to do. Disappointed.

Posted by Clark Ryan on April 12, 2012 07:38

Editor Comment:

Phuketwan was providing quick updates all afternoon and evening, Clark Ryan. Like 25,000 others, you should have taken advantage of the one place where Phuket people know they can find fast, accurate information in English when it's required. The point is that if the time ever comes when there is a second tsunami in the early hours of the morning - 3am, say - there won't be any television or radio coverage either. To seek a 24-hour news service from a holiday island in a developing country is a distinctly Western attitude. It's not like ''home.'' Be realistic, please.

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I work for a 5 star resort complex in Phuket, and we were not fleeing or deserting any of our guests. We followed proper evacuation measures for our guests, and made sure that our staff was safe. I was quite proud of our Thai staff and the way the handled the situation...it wasn't "total shambles" as indicated below.

Posted by Anonymous on April 12, 2012 08:23

Editor Comment:

Did someone use the phrase ''total shambles''? Only you, I think. Experiences will differ, depending on the preparedness of resorts. You can speak for yours, not others. Who at your resort would wake guests at 3am if you and senior management are away on leave?

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The only thing I did find was the difficulty in getting a space on any of the mobile phone services to place calls or even sms's. So much for preparedness for emergencies.Being prepard does not enter the local vocab here on Phuket. It's each man, women and child for themselves, run anywhwere but just run.

Posted by Robin on April 12, 2012 09:00

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Very good points made by the article. Its times like these, that we are given an opportunity by the "force" "gods" "watchers" "angels" whatever you may want to call them to prove our worth.

These are the times, when good people get million dollar worth karma to their credit. Please help your fellow human being in times of crisis not run away...These are the tests that every human will pass in earth school before moving on to higher realms.

Posted by Jack on April 12, 2012 09:25

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Mr. K is the AIS emergency sms service an optional one and how do you apply for it? I have Dtac and AIS services and neither of them got any sms about any warnings? Tell us more, please.

Posted by Graham on April 12, 2012 09:31

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@Graham
I did not subscribe to any service for the emergency SMS which would have been too late anyway...
My phone number is in use for more then 10 years and it may well be that AIS send those SMS to 'permanent phone numbers' only ..not to 1-2 call numbers or pre-paid numbers.
If this is the case it would be a shame, but I have no other explanation on why you did not get a SMS warning regarding this emergency situation.
The message was send by sender 'NDWC' and I guess this means National Disaster Warning Center.

Posted by Mr. K on April 12, 2012 11:01

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It would be interesting to know if the tsunami warning towers actually sounded alarm anywhere on Phuket.

In Chalong they sure didn't and someone mentioned neither did they in Nai Harn.

What about the main tourist destinations of Patong, Kata and Karon ?

Had the tsunami actually arrived, I wonder how many would simply have been taken by surprise.

Only English language information I was able to access was on PW. Surely there is room for improvement but I wonder who cares ?

Posted by Steve C. on April 12, 2012 11:10

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I was at Patong, it was chaos but lots of Thai people helped. Workmen stayed on a building site and lifted women and children, one guy led people up through a building and out onto the hillside. Houses and restaurants higher up opened their doors, gave water to wash people and offered solace. We just kept walking up until we couldn't walk anymore. We ran pretty soon after then first quake, the siren was a while after but clear enough - anyone with a brain knew to go up a building or up a hill. The people we spoke to had all been told by their hotels what to do. No-one wants to get caught in it - why should the Thai people sit and wait for rich tourists to wise up and risk their lives doing so? They have a right to save themselves too!!

Posted by Anna jones on April 12, 2012 11:20

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Hi Editor, please refer to the first comment on this thread from Rich, where it is he who first talks of total shambles. Yes, I can only speak of my resort, but I am thankful to say that we have a pretty good evacuation plan set, and just a little FYI, our senior management would never be allowed to take leave at the same time. So it would be the RDM and the Head of Security who would start waking people up at 3 a.m.

Posted by Anonymous on April 12, 2012 12:43

Editor Comment:

Thanks, all good to hear. Why not send the evacuation plan to editor@phuketwan.com and allow us to publish it in the interests of other resorts where the matter might not have been looked at so thoroughly?

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I also received the NDWC message from AIS

Posted by Thank You AIS on April 12, 2012 13:19

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Well said Annajones. What happened as word spread was people when they were informed, moved. Word quickly spread and everybody else followed. You are right about rich tourists expecting to have their hands held and a full account given to them before they act. Looked smooth enough to me considering what was driving this exodus. Why would staff restaurant staff be expected to hang around incase some toff has a question about it?

Posted by Phil on April 12, 2012 19:22

Editor Comment:

Phil, As the 2004 tsunami demonstrated, wealth won't save you. Real human beings stick around as long as they can to help other human beings. Rich or poor? Doesn't matter. To run without helping others is the mark of a selfish individual. Describing people as ''toffs'' is your problem.

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That said, the types of questions the well heeled were asking at our resort were well beyond restaurant staff level. They were told to run, saw others running and picked up on it. What the hell information other than RUN do they want? And should staff be on hand to answer and questions that arise. RUN!!

Posted by phil on April 13, 2012 19:49

Editor Comment:

Surely all staff at every resort need to know enough to be able to tell people what's happening. Your response really only shows a lack of knowledge and the ability to tell people what they need to know. Not good, Phil.

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To the Editor ........ people were helping each other - very much so, in fact! I did see however, many tourist pushing other tourist out of the way - i even saw a tourist push in front of two children on a make shift ladder. The Thai people need commending not condemning .... were you there, Editor?

Posted by Anna Jones on April 13, 2012 20:36

Editor Comment:

Your opinion is one experience among the thousands of people involved in the mass exodus. We've heard from scores of others all around the Andaman. There are good reports, and negative reports. Perhaps if tourists were given more correct information there wouldn't be a dangerous panic. To talk of ''rich tourists,'' as you did in your first comment, shows a bias that makes your report less reliable.

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I have returned home to Aust on an early departure from Phuket. We were on the streets shopping behind our Patong beachside hotel when chaos struck us. 100's of people, mainly locals suddenly running screaming 'Tsunami, run!' This is now the time I know the earthquake hit Indonesia seas. My husband carried our 10yr old and my 15 yr old & I ran. We were running as if waves were about to hit us, not understanding the time value. We were running for the Patong Hill but headed up Jonceylon which we reached. A police with sirens blazing actually told me 'no tunami Mam'. Staff were unfortunately not trained in what to do once we reached the high floors and wanted us to leave which we frightingly declined, as we were thinking tsunami was hitting the shores. I could say more, but can understand staff leaving, frightened for both themselves and family. I just followed my tsunami advice of finding high ground. I have heard various stories already of calm smooth evacuations, hotels on the beach front with no evacuation plan and others with stories of hysteria like I was in. It is a shame as your country is so beautiful & I am now frightened to experience more of it. I think good knowledge of safer areas to tourists is a good thing, rather than thinking that will frighten them.

Posted by Nicole on April 14, 2012 01:00

Editor Comment:

The lessons of the false alarm need to be learned. It's not about panic. It's about preparedness. The 2004 tsunami did not reach far inland in Patong, so there is no need for fear beyond the beach zone. Training? Yes . . . everyone who works in tourism needs to know what to do. And every tourist needs to know what to do. Perhaps now, a sustainable plan will be put into action, as it should have been seven years ago.

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I got an SMS from "dtac" at 7:43 pm Wednesday night. Aside from arriving a couple hours after people would have died if there had really been a tsunami, the SMS was all in Thai: not a single recognizable character. Then at 7:46, "mict" (apparently the "pornographic gambling threatens Thai national security" folks) sent an SMS where only "15.38" and "8.9R" would have been readable to the average tourist. So there *is* an SMS alerting system: it's just unreadable and worthlessly late.

Posted by dtac customer on April 14, 2012 12:52

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Whilst I understand peoples shock at Hotel staff running to safety when threatened with a Tsunami I think there are some considerations that need to be made before judging them.
1.If I had been involved in a previous Tsunami (which thankfully I have not) I am not sure my courage would be sufficient to make me hang around to try to help a bunch of tourists who through ignorance of the danger will probably ignore me anyway. (I am a hotel manager and have personal experience of guests refusing to leave their rooms during a fire in a hotel putting myself my staff and the fire brigade officers in needless danger as we try to evacuate them.
2. Restaurant and most hotel staff are on very low wages and a lot of them have little education and not the language skills needed to persuade guests to leave. Why in these circumstances would they hang around.
By all means judge these people if you must but please take ALL things into consideration and not assume everyone is the same as you.

Posted by Chris on April 16, 2012 21:57

Editor Comment:

Nobody is judging the people, Chris, just their mindset and the lack of training. In the 2004 tsunami, resort staff risked their lives to stay on the beaches and alert tourists in Phang Nga, north of Phuket. It's the difference between selfishness and selflessness - with a bit of training. And if you know you have 90 minutes to escape, there is no need to let the baser aspects of human nature prevail over the nobler ones. How odd it is that so many Westerners think everything comes back to money. What's sign language for ''There's a tsunami coming and we have 40 minutes to flee?'' Perhaps it's time to teach all restaurant staff enough basic English to get the message across.

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After 2004 tsunami, phuket had at least 3-4 false alarms because evacuations were decided for earthquake which magnitude at the center was over 7.2 if I well remember. 2 times police came in the night to issue tsunami evacuation and people packed and left. As nothing happened, people started to get fed up. Then, buoys were set on the ocean and everybody thought the system would get more reliable. What is the use of expensive buoys (which got replaced not so long ago) if false alarms are still issued?

Posted by cekipa on April 17, 2012 15:08

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I was in phuket at the time when the sirens sounded out. I have to say by my personal experience of it all that I have never seen such a sh*tty evacuation performance. No evacuation discipline from hotelstaff, no information whatsoever during the time of sitting on a roof with a weird feeling "is this for real?" I've worked security detail for a rather long time of my life and lesson nr1 is INFORMATION. After the earthquake under phuket I felt, NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING (thanks to phuketwan that made it clear that there was a quake in the first place) we went to bangkok instead.

Posted by Chris on April 28, 2012 09:55

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Ed you are a very disturbed person, you have no consistancy. You don't have any clear thoughts, I sometimes wonder if you are 2 different people. I feel sorry for you, you live in a buddist country and are not learning anything. You only see what you want to see.

Posted by Matt on December 30, 2012 23:51

Editor Comment:

I am certainly disturbed by one-comment wonders who bob up out of nowhere and have nothing to add, Matt, to any kind of intelligent conversation. Tsunamis kill indiscriminately, without regard to affiliations of any kind.

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Can someone tell the name of the closed and abandoned building in Patak road near the front village? Why is it closed? Thanks

Posted by Mimi on August 28, 2013 07:53

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Sadly no one in the hotel or restaurant business should be put down for running away from a giant wall of water that's probably going to kill them. This is ridiculous to think they're "super people" and should have stayed and not tried to rescue themselves. Sickened by anyone who thinks this is wrong. Not everyone is a rescuer.

Posted by Yvette on March 22, 2014 13:26

Editor Comment:

It's an interesting issue, Yvette, but like the crew of the Titanic or a flight about to crash-land, resort staff should be trained to help their guests reach safety. In this case there was no ''wall of water,'' just an alarm. Irrational fear and selfishness are to be discouraged at such times.

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The 2004 tsunami was magnitude 9.1 from memory and today's was about 6.6. As the scale of measurements is a logarithm, the energy released in 2004 was thousands of times greater (2^24 power)and the shaking amplitude 25 times greater.

Posted by Manowar on March 22, 2014 14:09

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Sorry, 2^ 12 power. Approx 4,000 times the energy released.

Posted by Manowar on March 22, 2014 14:15

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Can I ask if the tsunami warning towers sounded their siren? At my location (Nai Yang beach), I heard no siren.

Posted by Simon Luttrell on March 22, 2014 15:07

Editor Comment:

This article is not about a recent tsunami scare. There hasn't been a tsunami alert since April, 2012, and the latest earthquake did not trigger one.


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