All tsunami alerts were called off at 8.50pm after two large earthquakes off Indonesia revived memories of the killer 2004 tsunami and left authorities wondering whether some of the lessons from that disaster have been forgotten.
PHUKET: A massive tsunami alert drove thousands from the coast of Phuket, along the Andaman and around the entire Indian Ocean rim today. At 6pm, there was still concern about aftershocks.
An earthquake of magnitude 8.6 ripped parts of Indonesia at 3.50pm but no big wave followed on Phuket. Disaster officials warned that if a tsunami had been generated, it would reach Phuket at 5.40pm.
But the time came and went without the tsunami arriving. On Phuket and in surrounding provinces, tourists and residents reacted, in many cases heading for the hills whether or not there was an official warning.
Reports came later of an aftershock measured at 8.1 at 5.14pm, meaning that the alert could not yet be considered over.
Indonesia's Geophysical Agency said the aftershock hit off the Sumatra province of Aceh. A new potential tsunami alert was issued.
It was a day when Phuket got the shakes in more ways that one. The 110 minutes between the initial earthquake and the forecast potential big wave gave plenty of time for the word to get around.
By 5.40pm, police and emergency officials were the only ones along the danger area on and near Patong beach. Hospitals and shopping centres on Phuket had been completely or partially evacuated.
Phuket International Airport, close to the coast, initially paused outgoing flights. Heightening concern led to a cessation of flights in and out of the airport and a full-scale evacuation.
All incoming Thai flights from Bangkok tonight have been cancelled. It is believed all flghts also ceased in and out of Krabi airport.
Phuket airport will reopen at 8am tomorrow, airport officials said tonight.
Today's 110 minutes of fear brought a sharp reminder of December 26, 2004, when the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 220,000 people around the region, the vast majority near Aceh in Indonesia, where today's 8.6 magnitude quake came.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was on Phuket last month for a Cabinet meeting, has called an emergency Cabinet meeting for 7.30pm.
Since the 2004 tsunami, many questions have been asked about the adequacy of warnings on Phuket and along the Andaman coast. Today's experiences did not allay all of those concerns.
If the alert had come 12 hours earlier or 12 hours later, in the middle of the night, the scenes on Phuket may have been more alarming.