Tsunami scare puts Thailand on alert but threat passes
Sun Jul 24, 4:52 PM ET

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand went on high tsunami alert overnight with its southwest coast scrambling into evacuation mode after an earthquake struck the Nicobar Islands, but the alarm was lifted 90 minutes later.

The National Disaster Warning Center triggered its alert shortly after the US Geological Survey said a "major" earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale hit the remote Indian island chain at 1542 GMT Sunday.

Thai emergency broadcasts cited seismologists as saying the quake measured 7.3 and occurred about 660 kilometers (412 miles) west of Phuket, Thailand's main beach tourist destination which was hit by last year's tsunami disaster.

The center's director Plodprasop Surasawadi went on national television to sound the alarm, which triggered a series of evacuations along the coastline before the warning was lifted at about 1:20 am local time.

"After closely monitoring the situation ... it was determined that there will be no tsunami to endanger people's lives," Plodprasop said in a live broadcast.

"Therefore the center has cancelled its earlier warning."

But not before police, governors of coastal provinces, emergency services and residents and tourists had sprung into action.

Anuwat Matheeviboonwut, the governor of Phang Nga province which was hardest hit by the December tsunami, said evacuations had taken place including at Baan Nam Khem, a fishing village nearly wiped off the map seven months ago.

Baan Nam Khem villager Suneewan Thipmeung told broadcaster iTV that villagers quickly fled for safety.

"All people in Baan Nam Khem have already been evacuated to higher ground. But nothing suspicious has happened yet," she said. "The sea is calm."

Evacuations took place on the resort island of Phuket as well.

"When I learned authorities had issued a tsunami warning, I came out and saw my neighbours, and we agreed we should go to higher ground," said Nong, a shop owner in Patong town.

Western tourists were among the more than 1,000 others who Nong said joined her on the hillside behind Patong as police raced through the streets ordering people to leave and assisting with evacuations.

Television clips showed scores of inhabitants sitting on mats or in pickup trucks in designated safe areas, and emergency rescue or medical personnel preparing for an eventuality that never came.

It was the second tsunami false alarm for popular tourist destination Thailand since the giant waves barreled into the Andaman coast December 26, killing some 5,400 people in the kingdom, about half of them foreign holidaymakers.

A massive undersea quake March 29 off the Indonesian coast brought thousands of tourists racing out of their Phuket hotel rooms to higher ground.