2,000 attend tsunami evacuation drill in Thailand

Associated Press

Bangkok, April 29:

About 2,000 people took part in a tsunami emergency evacuation drill today on the Thai resort island of Phuket, where giant waves swept ashore four months ago killing hundreds of people. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra supervised the exercise, which included blaring sirens and announcements in Thai and English via public address systems instructing people to move to designated safe areas. “We learned a very expensive lesson because we were negligent, much too negligent,” Thaksin said of the December 26 disaster. “I want people in this area to understand that this drill is necessary.” Channel 11 television estimated that 2,000 residents and tourists participated in the exercise. Hoards of people vacated Patong beach while medical workers pretended to treat injured patients on stretchers. A navy frigate and helicopter conducted mock rescue operations just offshore.

More than 5,300 people died and 2,900 went missing when towering waves crashed into Thailand’s southern coastline on December 26. Many of the victims in Phuket were foreign tourists. The worst damage and most of Thailand’s tsunami deaths occurred in Phang Nga, a province north of Phuket. Thaksin said the drill was partly aimed at reassuring tourists that safety measures have been implemented in Phuket, the country’s top destination for foreign travellers, and said Thailand has allocated $10 million to build its own early warning system.

He did not elaborate, but said “we don’t care whether other countries will share the cost or not, but we are ready to link our system to theirs.”

Multinational efforts are underway to establish an early warning system in the Indian Ocean region, where the tsunami occurred, but Thaksin has pledged to forge ahead with a system for Thailand alone. Thailand has already built three watchtowers and installed about 50 loudspeakers in southern coastal areas to help warn people of impending tsunamis. Thaksin said Thais needed to learn more about tsunamis and mentioned how a British boy saved the lives of his parents and others because he saw the sea had receded and he knew it was a sign of tsunami. He also acknowledged failures by Thai authorities to warn people of the impending disaster.