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Thailand fires chief meteorologist
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  1. #1
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    Thailand fires chief meteorologist
    Inquiry launched into why no tsunami warning was issued
    Tuesday, January 4, 2005 Posted: 1015 GMT (1815 HKT)

    BANGKOK, Thailand (Reuters) -- Thailand has fired its chief meteorologist and opened an investigation into why his department failed to issue a tsunami warning which might have saved thousands of lives, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced.

    "When a quake measured at 8.9-9.0 on the Richter scale struck in Sumatra, it was widely known tsunami can happen. But why weren't there any alerts? I really want to know the truth," Thaksin told reporters Tuesday.

    A day after deadly waves devastated the country's Andaman Sea coast, Meteorological Department chief Suparerk Tansriratanawong had told reporters Thailand had not been hit by a tsunami in more than 300 years and had no reason to expect one.

    But the English-language Nation newspaper quoted an unnamed member of the department last week as saying a tsunami alert was not issued for fear of hurting the important tourist industry at the peak season if it turned out to be false.

    During the investigation, to be led by Information & Communications Technology Minister Surapong Suebwonglee, Suparerk will help set up a national early warning system for all natural disasters, a government spokesman said.

    No Asian country issued a warning of the Dec. 26 tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Indonesia, which killed nearly 150,000 people as it crashed ashore around the Indian Ocean.

    Thai expert says he tried to warn the government a deadly tsunami might be sweeping towards tourist-packed beaches, but couldn't find anyone to take his calls.

    Samith Dhammasaroj said Monday he was sure a tsunami was coming as soon as he heard about the massive December 26 earthquake off Indonesia's Sumatra island that measured magnitude 9.0 -- the world's biggest in 40 years. (Full story)

    "I tried to call the director-general of the meteorological office, but his phone was always busy," Samith said as he described his desperate attempts to generate an alert which might have saved thousands of lives.

    "I tried to phone the office, but it was a Sunday and no-one was there," said the former chief of the meteorological department now charged with setting up an early warning disaster system for Thailand.

    "I knew that one day we would have this type of tsunami. I warned that there would be a big disaster," he told reporters.

    "Everyone laughed at me and said I was a bad guy who wanted to ruin the tourist industry," he added.

    The tsunami took just 75 minutes to hit the beaches and islands of Thailand's Andaman Sea coast, 600 km (375 miles) from the earthquake's epicenter.

    Hotels on Thailand's Andaman Sea coast were packed when the tsunami hit, killing at least 5,187 people, including more than 2,400 foreign tourists, many from Scandinavia, drawn to its sand, warm seas and coral reefs to escape the long northern winter.

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    The following is the official news release which takes a slightly different angle:

    ****************************

    Chief of weather bureau transferred after last week's tsunamis
    BANGKOK, Jan 4 (TNA) - The Director-General of the Meteorological Department, Suparerk Tansriratanawong, has been transferred to a new post in the Office of the Prime Minister, Government Spokesman Jakrapob Penkair announced this morning.

    Mr. Jakrapob told a press conference that the change was ordered by the cabinet at its weekly meeting here on Tuesday morning.

    "The cabinet ordered that Mr. Suparerk be transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister to help a government newly-established team to set up an early warning system for any earthquakes or tsunamis in the country in the future", he disclosed.

    "The team is headed by Mr. Smith Tumsaroch, the former director-general of the Meteorological Department, who was recently appointed to be a new Vice Minister for the Office of the Prime Minister being in charge of setting up the early warning system in the country", the government spokesman said.

    The cabinet's order followed last week's tsunami disaster in Thailand's six southern provinces, including Phuket, Phang-nga, Krabi, Trang, Ranong and Satun, leaving nearly 5,200 dead, over 8,400 injured and nearly 4,000 still missing.

    The disaster on 26 December took place nearly two hours after a world strongest earthquake, measured on 9.0 on the richter scale, hit Indonesia's tourist resort island of Sumatra.

    (TNA)--E002

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