Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
This should be unbelievable, but since it's not, I better quote every single word. I came across a headline somewhere last night, which indicated that US seismologists had tried to warn their Asian colleagues of a tsunami potential immediately after the quake. I didn't read beyond the headline, but I should look for it again in light of what The Nation published in yesterday's edition. One thing I agree on, with the nameless official of the Meteorological Department -- just say, "We didn't think," and leave it at that. You were given some time, almost an hour, in which to take the right and smart action. You considered it, discussed it, hesitated over it, and weighed the safety of your people against your reputation for not being wrong. For if you were wrong, and there was no disaster after all, what then? Embarrassment, loss of face, business affected...
Published on December 28, 2004

Minutes after the earthquake hit northern Sumatra at 7.58am on Sunday, officials of the Meteorological Department, who were at a seminar in Cha-am, convened an emergency meeting chaired by Supharerk Tansrirat-tanawong, director-general.

They had just learned that the Bangkok office had reported a quake measuring at 8.1 on the Richter scale, which was much lower than the level officially recorded later.

"We didn't think there would be subsequent seismic waves, because a similar quake of 7.6 on the Richter scale, which hit Sumatra on November 2, 2002, did not affect Thailand," said a member of the department who asked not to be named.

Moreover, the quake this time hit west of Sumatra and officials thought the island might offer a natural shelter, preventing any waves from breaking towards Phuket and its vicinity, he said.

With slightly less than one hour before the waves came ashore, Supharerk said, the department officials did not expect a tsunami. There are just four people on the department's 900-person staff who are earthquake experts, he said. Also, a tsunami had not hit Thailand in more than 300 years.

But sources said they did discuss the likelihood that a tsunami could hit Thailand's Andaman Sea coastal towns. This was also played down.

"The very important factor in making the decision was that it's high [tourist] season and hotel rooms were nearly 100-per-cent full. If we issued a warning, which would have led to evacuation, [and if nothing happened], what would happen then? Business would be instantaneously affected. It would be beyond the Meteorological Department's ability to handle. We could go under, if [the tsunami] didn't come," said a source who attended the meeting.

"We hesitated for a while whether we should issue a warning or not. It was discussed but we didn't have a chance to do it."

Supharerk denied that tourism factored into the discussion at the 11th hour. "I think we have done our best," he said.

Precisely at 9am that Sunday, waves as high as 3 to 10 metres hit the main southern coastal provinces of Phuket, Phang Nga, Krabi and Ranong.

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation
I especially love the part where one of the the unnamed "sources" -- a source of raw brainstorming power in meetings, no doubt -- clarified that, "We could go under, if [the tsunami] didn't come."

Well? Just shut up about it then, and don't scare the tourists, right? The tsunami did come, it was the tourists and coastal residents who "went under", and the Meteorological Department's "ability to handle" things like business downturns and Thailand's global image, remains safely unchallenged.

A big warm thanks to every country, organisation or individual who extends help to the victims. Small amounts are appreciated just as much, I think, as I watch the "Indonesia Menangis" donations scroll across the ticker at the bottom of MetroTV's constant coverage. From millions of rupiah to 50,000 or 100,000 rp donations -- from hundreds to five or ten bucks. But special appreciation for those who put up money fast, on the day of the disaster. Canada pledged 3 or 4 million CAD, the 25-nation EU offered (I think it was) 3.5 million Euros. A UN official puts his foot in mouth over challenging the developed world to be more generous, and the media all thought he was slighting the US -- who put up 15 million USD on the first day, and added another 20 million yesterday when the scale of things became apparent. Japan is the only country in the same ballpark, with 30 million USD. Damn imperialists, always trying to be better than everybody else.

For added context, I was going to quote some Aussie moonbats writing letters to Sydney Morning Herald, tying the disaster in various ways to American misbehaviour, Gaia's rage against US imperialist aggression and so on, but I think I won't. Such wackiness right now just seems too creepy for how I'm feeling, because . . . .

I've just spoken with Azly's wife in Jakarta. She has lost some of her family in the vicinity of Banda Aceh. The bupati, or regency chief had contacted some of the Tapatuan community in Jakarta today, and Azly was told that the family is ok, and that the town had not been hit too hard on Sunday. What the reason for this is -- the shape of the coast may have protected it, the lack of a flat plain mitigated the effects, or miraculous life-saving mountains played their part -- is not yet clear. But it doesn't matter just now, at least my worst fears have not turned out to be true. I don't yet know for sure about everyone there, and we don't know about Batu Hitam yet either. Their chances look a lot better to me now than just a few hours ago. It almost seems like a miracle did happen -- just look at that map again (from yesterday) and recall that Meulaboh apparently had only a 20% survival rate. If Tapaktuan is nearly unaffected, as it sounded from the information I was given tonight, it really would be something almost unbelievable.

I didn't sleep last night, searching for any bits of information from the wireservices and Indo news sites. There is still not a word from South Aceh on any media anywhere, but I think maybe I can sleep tonight.

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