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Misinterpretation and rumor disguise the facts of a Phuket tragedy

Why Disco Blaze Sparks '10 Died' Rumors

Monday, August 20, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: Wild rumors that 10 people died in the Tiger Discotheque blaze on Phuket can be attributed to the confused coverage of the aftermath of the deadly fire.

Some British newspapers today carry the following extra-confusing paragraph: ''Confusion surrounds the inquiry as police are yet to formally identify four victims, believed to be two men and two women, and officers are also thought to be investigating at least three other missing people.''

Yesterday Thai Visa even issued an email: ''FLASH: At least 3 more victims in Tiger Disco fire.''

Really, there is no confusion, and no more victims. Rescue workers carried four bodies from the charred disco in Patong after Friday's after-hours blaze. Onlooking journalists counted them.

Then later that day, Phuket police called for resorts, guesthouses and members of the public to advise them of people believed to be missing as a result of the blaze.

More people came forward to declare friends or relatives ''missing'' than there are bodies.

This does not mean that more than four people died in the blaze. It only means that there is a difference between a person being ''missing'' and being ''unaccounted for.''

The lesson about the difference between numbers of dead, missing and unaccounted for should have been absorbed after the 2004 tsunami, when Thailand suffered its greatest natural disaster.

In the days that followed the tsunami, thousands of people from all around the world and across Thailand alerted diplomats and authorities to their ''missing'' friends and relatives.

In fact, the vast majority of them turned out to be peope who had been travelling in Thailand, Phuket or the Andaman region, and who hadn't thought it necessary to report back home that they were safe. People who were ''unaccounted for,'' not ''missing.''

There were almost 5400 deaths from the tsunami in Thailand, most of them around Khao Lak and on Phi Phi, with about 300 fatalities on Phuket.

However, double-counting of the thousands of unidentified bodies and the missing meant that some reputable news agencies - and the online reference source Wikipedia - still report that the tsunami toll in Thailand exceeded 8000.

The same mistake shouldn't be made today to exaggerate the Tiger Disco blaze. It remains a tragedy for four families, and for Phuket.

What's important is that unlike a natural disaster, this one need a thorough investigation.

The aim should be to find out what caused the blaze and whether the owners of the building and/or the entertainment group who occupied it could have done more.

Phuket should always recall the lessons of its history. More than 300 victims of the 2004 tsunami remain unidentified and are buried in a graveyard north of Phuket.

However, the identities of the four victims of the Tiger Disco inferno are likely to be known with certainty today.

Comments

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A thorough investigation is needed to make sure this doesn't happen again. Fox New reported that a police officer said that the fire was started by a transformer. In this day and age of 'insta news' the facts don't seem to be as important as getting the news NOW. Always appreciate your efforts to provide follow up and the facts Ed.

Posted by Jon on August 20, 2012 06:59

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Nicely written article. It actually makes you wonder just how many people go 'missing' completely in Phuket. There are plenty of single people here - mostly male, without friends or family back in their home countries to notify anyone, or worry about them.

Posted by agogohome on August 20, 2012 08:24

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I was reported and listed as missing in the 2004 Tsunami on Phuket. I called the police in my country and told them I'm very much alive and please remove my name from the list.

If one Googles my name, a list of people missing in the Tsunami still comes up on local newspaper website and there I am.

I ended up on the list because my Mom saw the tsunami news and was unable to reach me, not knowing I had changed my mobile phone number.

I was not even in Phuket when the Tsunami hit.

Posted by Andrew on August 20, 2012 10:12

Editor Comment:

The Thai authorities also failed to cross people off the list of ''missing'' once their bodies were identified, hence the double-counting. Phuketwan reporters wrote the story for the South China Morning Post one year after the tsunami, pointing out the error. The huge mistake was even repeated in official handbooks given to the world's journalists on the first anniversary of the tsunami, which is why people still get it wrong.

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In my country the privacy laws prohibit the publication of such lists but the authorities overlooked the law in this special case.

When I asked the police to please publish a list of those initially listed missing found to be ok, he cited the law and said they can't. I argued that simply seeing a name disappear from a list would not be enough for those not able to contact that person and he understood my point but said their hands are tied.

Since anything that ends up online once is there more or less forever, I'm still listed as missing.

I do not know if such laws exist in Thailand and if they complicated the situation here.

Posted by Andrew on August 20, 2012 13:00

Editor Comment:

Are you talking about the tsunami? The privacy requirements of individual embassies handicapped anyone seeking to get an overview, which is why we had to call 14 embassies to get separate statistics from each to prove that the Thai authorities had their figures wrong. This is why the honorary consuls' meetings on Phuket will be missed. The opportunity to share information that applies to all nationalities from time to time has gone. The everyday tourist is the loser. So are the residents of Phuket, who will have to work out the difference between Phuket standards and international standards for themselves now.

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Yes, sorry, I was talking about the Tsunami.

My embassy was hindering the process too and the list was compiled by private individuals running from one hospital to another one. They later recieved a presidential commendation for their work. Quite unique considering it was basically illegal.

I agree with you that the law has it's flaws and as a direct consequence a lot of people I've met during my life but have no contact with anymore still think I'm dead.

Unfortunately my life insurance company does not :o)

Posted by Andrew on August 20, 2012 13:22


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