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HOME // Phuket News // Nineteen years on, concerns remain over “neglected” tsunami warning system

Nineteen years on, concerns remain over “neglected” tsunami warning system

PHOTO: Reuters

Yesterday was the nineteenth anniversary of the December 2004 tsunami that devastated the south-west coast of Thailand and numerous other countries around the Indian Ocean.

Triggered by a 9.2-magnitude Boxing Day earthquake off the northern tip of Sumatra, in Indonesia, the tsunami claimed around a quarter of a million lives, with thousands still missing.

On the Thai islands and places like Khao Lak, in Phang Nga, many of those missing, presumed dead, were undocumented migrant workers. In Phuket, Phang Nga, Ranong, Krabi, Trang and Satun, around 5,400 people died and over 8,000 were injured.

Countless hotels, resorts, bungalows, shops, and restaurants, as well as private homes, were totally destroyed. According to a Nation Thailand report, damages were estimated at over 1 billion baht.

In the aftermath, Thailand installed early warning systems, including two detection buoys off the coast of Phuket and more than 100 watch towers in six provinces.

When an earthquake with a magnitude of over 7.8 is recorded, officials are required to trigger an alarm, giving people an hour and a half to get to higher ground and “safe zones”. The warning towers are set to broadcast alerts in Thai, English, German, Chinese and Japanese.

However, there are concerns in some quarters that maintenance of these early warning systems was neglected during the Covid-19 pandemic, when international tourism in Thailand totally shut down and the financial impact in the affected areas was devastating.

This has raised questions as to the efficacy of the systems and even if they are still in working order.

In July last year, when an earthquake struck the Nicobar Islands, around 570 kilometres off the coast of Phuket, both tsunami buoys failed to function.

In April of this year, up to 25 tsunami warning towers suddenly began sounding an alarm, causing residents and tourists to panic. To this date, officials have been unable to explain what triggered the alarms, saying there were no faults found at any of the towers.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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