Tsunami warning system finally ready, after 8 years

THAILAND - Thailand now has the best warning system in Southeast Asia, eight years after the Andaman coast was ravaged by a devastating tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004.

Before monstrous waves hit Thai shores and killed over 8,000 people in six provinces along the southern coast, no one knew the tsunami was coming.

All that will change with the early alert system and instruments installed by the National Disaster Warning Centre (NDWC) along the Andaman coast over the past eight years, backed by necessary regulations.

Now, ample time for evacuation is assured with streamlined regulations, in a bid to save lives.

The devastating waves killed 5,395 people - many of them foreign tourists - with another 2,817 people swept away or lost.

Over 58,550 people were affected, including 1,480 children who lost one or both parents.

"Within two minutes (after tsunami waves start to form), we can now calculate the speed and know exactly when they will reach the shore. Messages could be sent out immediately after the calculation," Captain Song Ekmahachai, chief of the NDWC's Disaster Warning and Dissemination Division, told The Nation in an exclusive interview.

He said alerts could be sent to the public within 15 minutes via satellite and warning towers.

To prevent another disaster from an earthquake-driven tsunami, the NDWC has set up 136 warning towers and three tsunami-detection buoys in the Andaman Sea - one near the coast and two others in the deep sea.

When an abnormal tidal wave is detected, the buoys send data to the NDWC via satellite, where staff members work around the clock to monitor updates on computer screens.

Many will miss the opportunity to celebrate New Year and other festivals.

The centre then double-checks data with the Thai Meteorological Department, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), and other authorised disaster monitoring agencies to confirm the occurrence.

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