Flashback 1998 – The tsunami warning

Flashback 1998 - The tsunami warning

Smith Thamsaroj (or Samit Thammasarot), the former Director General of the Meteorological Department, will be organizing a new warning system for natural disasters for the country:

Warning system to be built - Bangkok Post, December 31, 2004
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday put Smith Thamsaroj, a former Meteorological Department chief, in charge of establishing an advanced seismic and tidal wave warning system for the whole nation...
WARNING SYSTEM: Veteran forecaster Smith recruited - The Nation, December 31, 2004
The government will appoint Smith Tumsa-roch to take charge of installing an advance warning system for tsunamis in a bid to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe triggered by Sunday’s killer waves, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday.
Smith, a former director-general of the Meteorological Department, has been warning about the possibility of giant waves striking Thailand’s west coast since 1993, following a wave disaster in Papua New Guinea. His warning fell on deaf ears however, and many ridiculed him, suggesting he was crazy...


What the Post fails to mention and The Nation alludes to is the 1998 incident where Thamsaroj tried to issue a tsunami warning for Phuket. At that time the prediction caused panic and commotion. After a few days the publicity died down with Mr. Sanit being criticized for alarming people and hurting tourism.

After the tsunami hit last week, he has been much in demand for interviews on TV and in newspapers. From ThaiRath, December 27, 2004: "Mr. Samit Thammasarot, the former director general of the Meteorological Department, warned of the danger of tsunamis in the Andaman Sea and south of Thailand on August 16, 1998." On the same day, he was interviewed on Channel 9 and warned of further aftershocks and suggested a float-based warning system for the Indian Ocean.

Here are some articles from the time when Thamsaroj first issued his tsunami warnings in 1998:

Huge tidal wave reports dismissed - Bangkok Post, August 22, 1998
Provincial authorities yesterday rejected news reports that a huge tidal wave may hit the western coast of the South after some 500 people in Kathu District fled to a hill during a heavy downpour on Thursday night...

Tourism businesses slam prediction of tidal wave - Bangkok Post, August 19, 1998
The senior official who predicted a tsunami would strike the western coast faced a tidal wave of criticism from tourist businesses yesterday...

Tsunami fear unfounded, say officials - Bangkok Post, August 15, 1998
The Meteorological Department said yesterday that rumours of a tsunami about to sweep the west coast of southern Thailand are unfounded, and appealed to the public for calm...

False alarm on tsunami - Bangkok Post, August 14, 1998
Families started leaving their seaside homes yesterday after a false alarm that a tsunami was expected to strike the west coast...

And here is an interesting mention of a tsunami that hit Thailand's east coast in 1965:

Disaster centre planned - Bangkok Post, March 1 1997
The Interior Ministry has agreed to build a 35-million-baht public disaster prevention centre at flood- prone Laem Talumpuk peninsula in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. The proposal has recently received the green light from the National Civil Disaster Prevention Committee, which is chaired by Permanent Secretary for Interior Chuwong Chayabutr, a source revealed yesterday. Under the proposal, the ministry will spend five million baht from the 1997 budget and another 30 million baht from the 1998 budget to build the centre, which can accommodate 1,500 people. Laem Talumpuk in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Pak Phanang district is prone to floods. The area was hit by a tidal wave in 1965 which claimed the lives of over 500 people. Currently, there are seven disaster prevention centres in Chiang Mai, Lamphang, Phitsanulok, Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Surat Thani, and Songkhla provinces. These centres are manned by officials and volunteers and equipped with disaster relief aids and equipment...
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