45 minutes ago.
Tsunami Warning Failed to Get Through-Thai Expert
45 minutes ago Science - Reuters
By Crispian Balmer
PHUKET, Thailand (Reuters) - A Thai expert said on Monday he tried to warn the government a deadly tsunami might be sweeping toward tourist-packed beaches, but couldn't find anyone to take his calls.
Samith Dhammasaroj said he was sure a tsunami was coming as soon as he heard about the massive Dec. 26 earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra island that measured magnitude 9.0 -- the world's biggest in 40 years.
"I tried to call the director-general of the meteorological office, but his phone was always busy," Samith said as he described his desperate attempts to generate an alert which might have saved thousands of lives.
"I tried to phone the office, but it was a Sunday and no-one was there," said the former chief of the meteorological department now charged with setting up an early warning disaster system for Thailand.
"I knew that one day we would have this type of tsunami. I warned that there would be a big disaster," he told reporters.
"Everyone laughed at me and said I was a bad guy who wanted to ruin the tourist industry," he added.
The tsunami took just 75 minutes to hit the beaches and islands of Thailand's Andaman Sea coast, 375 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.
Now more than 5,100 people are dead, nearly half of them foreign tourists who abandoned Europe's cold, dark winter for golden sands and turquoise seas, and left 3,800 missing, nearly 1,700 of them foreigners.
Downstairs from where he spoke, dozens of foreigners were still scanning message boards, trying to match grisly photos of bloated, battered bodies to the smiling pictures of missing friends and relatives.
"I feel very sorry for the people who died," Samith said. "I will make sure this thing does not happen again."
The early warning system for Thailand -- which has not had a natural disaster in living memory worse than floods during the annual monsoon -- would be ready in six months, Samith promised.
"We will make the system very efficient," he said.
Preliminary investigations by a team of six Japanese experts showed that the wall of water hit beaches along the Thai coast at different speeds and heights, with the phenomenon exacerbated by a high tide that fed the tsunami as it neared land.
Khao Lak beach, lined with hotels and resorts especially popular among Scandinavians and Germans just north of Phuket, took the worst hit from waves up to 10.5 meters (34 ft) high.
They roared up Khao Lak's gently sloping beach at speeds of up to 8 meters a second (29 kilometers an hour), said Professor Hideo Matsutomi, who led the Japanese team.
"There have been six major tsunami in this region since 1797, but I think this last tsunami was the biggest," he said.
Tsunami are much more frequent in the Pacific Ocean and countries there have long established an early warning system to protect them from disaster.
Samith said countries in the Indian Ocean had to follow suit and set up a network of underwater sea monitors which might cost as little as $20 million to build.
Warnings of imminent inundations would be sent out automatically on television and radio and by text messages to mobile phones.
The system would help woo back tourists scared away by the mass loss of life, Samith said.
"No-one can predict an earthquake, but you can predict a tsunami," he said. "We will build a good system."
"We will help tourists come back to Thailand."