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Tourists evacuated from Patong during the Phuket tsunami alarm

Phuket Tsunami Alert Ends: Is It Safe to Go Back?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Evacuation Photo Album Above

AN EVACUATION alert for Phuket and the Andaman coast eased when the tsunami failed to arrive at 7am today. Tourists on Phuket and along the coast rushed from their rooms in the midst of the alert.

Australian tourist Tony Mollica, on holiday from Melbourne with his wife and two children at the Horizon Patong, said: ''I was awake but my family and all the rest of the hotel were asleep. Staff came banging on doors saying: 'Tsunami! Tsunami! You've got five minutes! Get Out!

''Now [7.50am] we don't know whether it's safe to go back or not.''

In any case, Mr Mollica said, they were awoken at 7.02am - which would have been too late if the tsunami had arrived on schedule.

''We are not sure what to do next,'' he said. ''One guest just grabbed her passport, so she's standing here in her nightie.''

Coming in darkness with a 5.15am undersea earthquake measuring 7.8 off Indonesia, the alert was a full Level Three test of the preparedness of Phuket and the region to cope with a real second tsunami.

North of Phuket in the fishing village of Nam Khem, where 800 perished in the 2004 tsunami, village head Sathian Petkeng said: ''The tsunami tower did not sound. We were lucky that we had a contact who called direct from the tsunami warning centre in Bangkok.''

A young woman tourist on Phuket said she heard about the tsunami alert in a telephone call made by her mother - from Australia.

Phuketwan placed a call to the Tourist Police ''tourists' friend'' number 1155 to seek guidance on whether the alert was over. We were told by a sleepy voice: ''What? There's been a tsunami alert?''

Tell us your Tsunami Alert story. Comment below or send a photo to:
editor@phuketwan.com


Phuketwan reporter Chutima Sidasathian reached Patong Hill from Phuket City about 6.40am, when she was stopped by a road block and an exodus of people from Patong, Phuket's main resort destination.

''It was an amazing sight,'' she said. ''People were waiting to see if the big wave came at 7am. We saw tourists carrying their bags away from their resorts.'' Bar girls fled with the tourists.

Ambulances from the island's hospitals were sent to the coast, just in case.

The tsunami was due at 7am but the time passed without incident. Police oficers alerted staff at the Impiana Resort Phuket, on the Patong beachfront, to the tsunami alarm. About 100 guests had to be ferried to higher ground because not all of them could be accommodated in the resort's minivans.

At the Baan Laimai Resort, further along the beach road, officials walked in to sound the alarm, restaurant manager Bunyat Wattragon said. ''I am not sure where they were from,'' he said. ''We moved people to the roof of the resort straight away. There was no panic because we have been through previous alerts and drills.''

In Indonesia, the BBC reported, there was panic over the tsunami alerts. On Phuket, the alert will at least rekindle the attention of authorities in maintaing warning systems and signage, just in case a second tsunami does come one day.

While there are those in the tourism industry who would prefer to forget the 2004 tsunami, today's alarm illustrated that the future of the tourism industry depends on eternal vigilance and proper preparedness.

Phuket Governor Wichai Praisa-ngob headed from Phuket City to Patong well before 7am to see for himself whether the warning system was effective. Early reports to Phuketwan indicate that it was slow and would not have saved everyone in the danger zone.

The Mollicas returned to their hotel at 8.20am.

Phuketwan Opinion

TO HAVE officials walking into resorts to sound the tsunami alarm is highly inefficient. What happened to the much-touted SMS alarm system? What happened to the tower sirens along the beaches?

How many people did not get the alert? How many people would not have escaped in time?

Why? It's plain that today's tsunami alert was a fullscale disaster.

Phuketwan has seen areas of Phuket where the tsunami warning signs are in decay and can no longer be read, a sure indication that local authorities no longer consider a second tsunami worth much thought.

When visitors arrive on Phuket, should they be told there could be a tsunami alert? While this is the first alarm to reach Level Three, several earlier alerts have reached Level Two.

If Phuket cannot assure tourists that they are secure from a second tsunami, then some may opt in future to go to destinations where their safety is assured.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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You must be joking again ! Tsunami alert ? No alarms raised in Rawai or anywhere else south of Patong that I am aware of !...No waves either...Editor, not that I don't appreciate your efforts but sometimes I wonder why you bother, funny stuff all the same ha ha ha Tsunami alert ! Cheers

Posted by You must be joking on April 7, 2010 08:17

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Great work, you guys! News like it should be. Fast and furious. ALL the other news providers were safely in bed I guess.

Posted by relieved on April 7, 2010 08:25

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Excellent work! I slept through the whole thing anyway, but impressed to read no less than three stories about it upon checking this site first thing in the morning.

I think Phuketwan needs to set up a mobile news alert since it seems you're the only one awake in times like these.

Posted by L on April 7, 2010 09:16

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It's better to be safe than sorry. Can you imagine if the authorities knew there was a chance of a tsunami and did nothing about it?!

What is worrying is that the tsunami towers didn't activate their sirens. Who is responsible for that? Are they automatic? Is there a joint co-ordinator who is in charge?

I found out about it when the GF's mum rang her at 6.30am.
From Nong Khai !!

Editor: We've been told by an official of the Department of Disaster prevention and Mitigation that the sirens along the beaches will be sounded ''20 to 30 minutes before a real tsunami.'' Isn't that nice to know?

Posted by Mr Mark on April 7, 2010 10:37

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I knew about the Tsunami alert in Angola West Africa as I was up late watching SKY News on DSTV and there it was. I called a few friends in Rawai where I live and they didn't even know about it, although one mentioned 7/11 shut its doors.

What a poor response, looking at other posters' comments. Tourist Police did not even know there was an alert issued????? Duhhh exactly the response we now expect from an inept Police Force.

I am glad that I live on a hill overlooking the sea. After all, lightning never strikes twice???? Or things come in threes???


There surely must be a tightening and revamp of evacuation procedures. Assumption and complacency KILLS

Posted by Deepest Darkest Africa on April 7, 2010 13:40

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30 Minutes evacuation time, wow that means my little car needs a turbo on it just to get moving, and that is before I am awake? Do you know how fast a tsunami moves, at between 500 to 1000 KM / h in deep water.

Then the wave height is only a few centimeters, barely detectable by the tsunami watch buoys.


So with thirty minutes of warning, the tsunami wave would have past the warning buoys, hit Phuket and be traveling onto Japan, all this before the residents here would be warned or knew what hit them.

Be prepared for anything ... amazing Phuket.

Posted by Robin on April 7, 2010 16:05

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Well done for getting out of bed so early, old chap. But I think your Play of the Day is a little over the top. Your report didn't save any lives today. If there was a tsunami they'd sound the towers before anyone thought to check Phuketwan. But just in case, I'll set my computer so it plays a deafening siren when you upload a new story from now on.

Editor: We believe it's better to report events as they happen that wait for a few hours, or a few days, until the authorised version of events arrives via fax. Our aim remains to improve safety (and save lives), not to make money while pretending we have the community's interests at heart.

Posted by Jake Spiker on April 7, 2010 19:50

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It was not an alert but a watch and the relevant authorities watched and deemed it not a risk.
Issue a correction.

Posted by MediaWatcher on April 7, 2010 20:52

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Tsunami?!
I got nothing, and I slept on my boat, without any warning!
If there was a tsunami, I was by now history.

Spent milljons on tsunami alarm systems, results, sero!!!!!
Good investment!

What should they have said, if a tsunami killed a couple of thousand people, "Oh we were thinking again, wrong!"

Shame, shame, shame for anybody lost his life in the last tsunami, nothing learned!!!
Sorry, my anger!

Eric

Posted by Eric Van Wanseele on April 8, 2010 13:09

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Better to be safe than sorry, i was awoken by a phone call from my parents back home in Melbourne. Myself and my fiancee were staying at the Patong Merlin and had heard nothing of a so called Tsunami, reception had no idea either.

We were up like a flash and grabbed our passports and jumped on our hired scooter and headed for higher ground just to be safe. The Thais were oblivious and didn't even hear or know anything about the Tsunami warning headed for the Andaman Coast. . .

So many millions spent on alarms and safety warnings and still heard nothing!! Lucky to be Home safe now.

Posted by Daniel on April 11, 2010 15:32

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In view of the lack of information sent out by the "authorities" during last week's tsunami warning, I thought readers might like to learn of a reliable, independent, tsunami alarm system which sends SMS messages directly to subscribers' mobile phones.

As a long time Kamala resident, I have subscribed to this system since the 2004 tsunami, and am completely satisfied with the information I receive.

For example, last Wednesday 7 April at around 5.35am, I received 3 tsunami alert SMS messages from the Tsunami Alarm System (http://tsunami-alarm.com/) just 20 minutes after the quake.

I then logged onto the USGS website where I evaluated the danger myself, and was able to estimate there was no real threat of a significant tsunami in Phuket. I was able to confirm this by following Twitter immediately after receiving the alerts (search for "tsunami") where I was able to see when an "all-clear" message was posted at around 6:15am, long before the "authorities" had informed the public of any threat.

I hope this information helps give Phuket's residents and visitors some peace-of-mind, in case of any future tsunami warnings.

Posted by Kelvin on April 14, 2010 15:49

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Thank you very much Kelvin, I have now subscribed to this service as well.

"I hope this information helps give Phuket's residents and visitors some peace-of-mind, in case of any future tsunami warnings."

It will indeed.

Posted by Graham on April 15, 2010 14:34

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Hello guys, following the last 8.6 Earthquake off the coast of Sumatra (11 april 2012), I have looked into that Tsunami Warning to Mobile Phone website Kelvin suggested but I saw the site does not exist any more.. is that offline or something?! I think they shut it down already.. I have found this other site instead, http://www.sms-tsunami-warning.com. It looks very professional, full of useful info and I verified records are updated in real time. I see they do donations to red cross too. I hope this helps, Cheers, Daniel

Posted by Daniel on April 17, 2012 04:11

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I wonder if the Ed will let me say this on the forum? There is a wonderfull application that one can put on an Android smartphone called Indian Ocean Tsunami Alerter. It only is for Android users, but if someone can get the developer to make an app for iphone people, then that would be great?

Posted by Dun on April 17, 2012 06:58

Editor Comment:

Give free smartphones away to the people of Phuket, Dun, and your idea has merit. Why not put your mind to real solutions for everyone, not just those with money.

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Ed strange comment. I have seen many, many thai kids and farang on this island, with their own iPhones, I wonder how they can afford them. A real solution is what I do. I get the messages and alerts on my phone and I send sms warnings to all my friends and those in the boating world. Hey if I had your mobile number, I could even include you on my list too?

Posted by Dun on April 17, 2012 07:21

Editor Comment:

Would you like to offer this service to all Phuket tourists, Dun? They could subscribe on arrival at Phuket airport before they head for the beaches. And the failsafe could be that you run around Phuket, yelling loudly.

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I would like to offer a service like this to tourists, locals and even all residents of Thailand and the region. But alas, due to the strict work requirements in Thailand, I would need to set up a company, get a work permit and have a company premise to do this. So I am not willing to do this company thing, just too much red tape for a farang. Why does the government or one of it's " Committees" not offer this service to all inhabitants and tourists here? Anyone can do it, even you. Your PW is doing a great job at the moment of keeping everyone informed of present news. Keep up the sterling work you do. Thank you.

Posted by Dun on April 17, 2012 07:38

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ED what happened to my last comment? My other comments went up on the site pretty quickly, but my last one has not been put up.Yes I did offer a practical solution to the solvable problem, you just haven't printed it yet?

Posted by Dun on April 17, 2012 07:57

Editor Comment:

This is the problem, Dun. ''Foolproof'' systems depend on someone being at their post, 24/7. Even at PW, we can't do it.

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@ Kevin, I did similar things to you, we seemed to be MORE informed than the authorities, I have been critized by many, when I commented the sirens should not have been sounded, in the end, I was justified, I have also spoken to thais in Patang, ok only 5, but they all agreed, why all the panic, the 2004 tsunami, which was much stronger, only maded it about 100 meters inland, not even to Jungceylon, why everyone trys to "escape" using the ONLY safe road out bewilders me, go to any hotels second floor, or higher, go to Jungceylon (have a coffee)or anywhere east of Rat-U-Thit 200, unless the warning is for a much larger tsunami than 2004, the Indonesian area (include Thailand) has always been an earthquake prone area, how many tsunamis, in living memory, have hit Thailand, never mind only Phuket,, people, listen, PANIC kills, we also need overcome the problem of idiots, stopping on Patong hill, blocking the only escape road.

Posted by Laurie Howells on April 17, 2012 08:53

Editor Comment:

How many tsunamis in living memory have hit Thailand? One, Laurie. How about some constructive ideas for greater protection for all rather than back-patting and pointing out the obvious?


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