Source AP ©

Thailand conducts tsunami evacuation drill

The largest tsunami evacuation drill of Asia was conducted by Thailand Wednesday along the Andaman coast that was devastated by earthquake-generated giant waves that killed more than 8,000 people in 2004.

In hotels and villages in six provinces along the Andaman coast, people made their way to the highest and safest places, said Smith Dharmasaroja, chairman of the National Disaster Warning Administration that organized the drill.

All 79 alarm towers functioned well, but more of them are needed, he said.

"There are not enough towers. In the near future we will have between 100 and 150. We will try to do this twice a year from now on," Smith said.

Le Meridien Khao Lak Beach and Spa Resort will install their own warning tower and tie it into the system, general manager Martin Raich said in a telephone interview.

"It was difficult to hear the warning alarm unless you were on the beach, where it was faint. People in the lobby didn't hear it," Raich said.

Raich said, however, that they still managed to get everyone into the safe area in 4 1/2 minutes.

Resorts along the beach in Khao Lak in Phang Nga province, 620 kilometers (380 miles) south of Bangkok - located on the mainland just north of the resort island of Phuket, and where many foreign tourists were killed in 2004 - took part in the drill, Raich said.

About 5,000 people participated in the drill at Patong beach, the biggest of 17 points on Phuket, 680 kilometers (420 miles) south of Bangkok, said Niran Kanlayanamitr, the governor of Phuket province.

The drill started with an alarm, then announcements in Thai, English, German, Japanese and Chinese that there was an earthquake in the sea and a tsunami was possible, so people should evacuate to high ground.

Participants followed tsunami evacuation routes from the beach, including people who were acting injured and needed help to move.

"The evacuation drill is a very important measure to draw back tourists," Niran said. "When the tsunami hit the beach we lost a lot people, and after that only 5 percent of tourists stayed behind. I believe that when we have an early warning system, tourists will regain confidence."

The Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 8,000 people in Thailand, including foreigners vacationing at five-star resorts and local residents who mostly lived in fishing communities that line the Andaman coast.

Some 230,000 people in a dozen countries around the Indian Ocean rim were killed or left missing and presumed dead in the disaster.

International organizations financed the drill and sent 40 experts to observe, Smith said.

"A tsunami may only happen once every 50 years, once every 100 years, and so it is difficult to keep up a high level of preparedness," said Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. "That is one of the biggest challenges."

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