11. April 2012 – Mini Tsunami in Patong Beach Phuket

Even though I have been in Phuket during the 2004 tsunami, I simply slept through the earthquake preceding it; not so this time: around 15:45 there was an earthquake of 8.9 on the Richter scale off Indonesia and I felt it.

It was a really curious feeling, sitting in front of my computer: it felt like my leg was shaking, because it fell asleep. As my legs were fine, I even checked the chair if it had a problem, but it had not. Only a short while later did I learn, that this tremor was indeed a real earthquake.

Upon hearing this news, I did the only logical thing to do: after I made sure that my wife was not in a place of danger, I jumped in my car and headed directly to Patong; the entry to Patong was blocked basically right behind me, so I was just in time.

Hordes of fleeing people were already on the mountain overlooking Patong Beach, even more were pushing out of the city, sometimes three and four cars deep in roads built for two in that direction. This mass of cars was thickly intermixed with motorbikes, and I saw some really wild driving today.

As was to be expected, there was no signal in the mobile network. A warning SMS for the impending tsunami reached me actually only after the first wave had hit.

As was also expected, the tsunami warning towers were not really good at warning tourists. They sounded their warning, but the beeping was not understood to be a signal of impending danger.

Besides those two — very expected — shortfalls in the communication process, I think that the Thai authorities have done a splendid job today of protecting the public: on nearly every street corner of Patong, I saw police and helpers, emergency vehicles positioned themselves on strategic points, and the police went around warning stragglers to get out of places close to the beach.

I had already decided before, that the bridge to the Amari Coral Beach resort would be the perfect spot to stay during the tsunami: it offered a great view over the whole bay of Patong Phuket, while at the same time having a very steep incline, in case that running would become a necessity.

After the last tsunami, being in Patong Beach a few hours after the tsunami, somebody screamed a waring of another incoming wave (bogus, of course) and I was part of a panicked stampede of people running right along Bangla Road — instead of simply climbing up into the second floor of for example Tiger Disco — this experience taught me, how dangerous panic can be and how utterly stupid one might behave even though knowing much better.

Also absolutely spot-on was the guesstimate of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, when the wave would most likely hit Phuket: announced was 18:18, and the water poured in only a few minutes later than that. A very small tsunami was recorded than off Indonesia, with a height of 40 centimeters, but as I left my house it was very unclear, if this would be only the first or strongest wave.

The tsunami itself was very much a disappointment, for somebody sitting in a safe place with a camera, waiting to capture it.

Of course, I am very happy, no over-joyed, that there was no real tsunami happening today, besides a handful of very small waves of between 30-50 centimeters. No damage was done to life or goods, the Thai authorities mastered the situation with bravour (making them much more trustworthy next time around), and a lot of tourists agreed with me, that they now had a story to tell at home about having had a real adventure holiday.


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