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Miyashita Kazushi, a Phuket resident who has endured two tsunamis

Phuket and Japan, Tied By Blood, Water and Aid

Thursday, March 17, 2011
JAPAN and Phuket are inextricably linked by blood and water, and the word ''tsunami.''

The word is Japanese, but it was only after a tsunami hit Phuket and the region in 2004 that the whole world knew what the word really meant.

Today snow is falling on Japan, casting flakes across the debris of a gigantic disaster. Apart from the white sky, the sights are familiar to people from the Phuket region, a reminder of suffering. And a reminder of recovery. Khao Lak, Phi Phi and Phuket can never forget.

The face of Miyashita Kazushi showed yesterday that he is enduring the pain of a tsunami for a second time. First the Indian Ocean rose up and struck Phuket; Now the Pacific has washed over his homeland, triggering a crisis that would be considered unlikely if it was the plot of a novel.

Tragically, 'Tsunami II' is real, not fiction. Mr Miyashita and many people on Phuket are now trying to come to terms with the scale of the calamity, what they can do to help, and how it will affect Japan and Phuket.

Mr Miyashita, President of the Japan-Phuket Assocation, met with Governor Tri Augkaradacha to establish a call centre at Provincial Hall in Phuket City where people can ring to offer cash or other essential needs.

Blankets, heating, food, batteries - hundreds of thousands of people in Japan now need these things. Japan helped Phuket in 2005. Now it's Phuket's turn.

While Phuket recovered with great speed from the big wave of 2004, the more impactful 2011 version will cripple Japan and its economy for years to come. The death toll is likely to at least double the 5400 who perished in Thailand.

Fortunately, because Japan was well-prepared, hundreds of thousands escaped the tsunami. Points of comparison are everywhere.

The Japanese wave swept in at a height of 10 metres and rode inland 10 kilometres up one valley; the Thai tsunami swept two kilometres across Khao Lak and left a watermark at 9.3 metres in one coastal resort.

As well as seeking ways that aid can be delivered, people on Phuket are now handing out anti-radiation doses at the airport and calculating the potential legacy of the Japan catastrophe.

About 500 Japanese work on Phuket in high season, but many are likely to head home to families and friends in the aftermath of the earthquake, the wave and the Fukushima nuclear scare.

Given the scale of death and destruction, the effects on the tourism industry are less important, and in any case difficult to weigh at this stage.

What can be certain is that the Japanese, once leery about travelling to Phuket after the 2004 tsunami, are now likely to stay at home because of their own big wave.

The first practical effect has been the cancellation of a Tourism Authority of Thailand road show from Phuket that was due to visit Tokyo and Osaka next month. Phuket will be sending aid instead.

Some resorts on Phuket that have a high proportion of Japanese guests may suffer cancellations, although a spokesperson at the Diamond Cliff Resort, reckoned by many to be the most popular with Japanese visitors, said yesterday there was no sign of large-scale cancellations.

Phuket bounced back in post-tsunami 2005 because tourists were urged to help the economy recover by coming for a holiday. The same practical assistance is likely to be needed by Japan in coming months, and probably years. The destruction is much, much greater.

Airline flights appear to be resuming. For a time, said Suchart Hirankanokkul, President of the Thai Hotels Southern Chapter, about 10 Japanese families were unable to fly out after holidaying at his establishment, the Phuket Graceland Resort and Spa in Patong.

He allowed them to stay on at no cost, and also refunded deposits to holidaymakers who could not fly out from Japan.

It is to be hoped that the rest of Phuket is equally generous when it looks in the mirror of television and sees its own recent trauma reflecting in Japan now, as the snow falls.

How Phuket Can Help Japan

Donation for Japan Aid can be made at the Krung Thai Bank
Account No. 805-0-41578-3
Account name Phuket Help Japanese Victims
Office branch code 805

Donations and suggestions for help can also be made at the Phuket Call Centre: 076-216333 (five lines) Monday to Friday 8am-4.30pm
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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The Phuket tourism industry should think about special offers for Japanese customers. Specially the elderly ones, as I know for a fact, that ordinary Japanese will not run away, but stay and get the mess sort out.

But for the older ones, there should be a special promotion for long or medium stay, maybe better than send nippon made batteries to Japan...

Posted by Lena on March 17, 2011 22:50

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Good idea, Lena, but don't send them to Phuket. They've suffered enough already.

Posted by Mike Boyd on March 18, 2011 10:48


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