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Patong breathes easy after tsunami scare

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Patong breathes easy after tsunami scare | The Thaiger
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PATONG: Following the high state of tsunami alert last night, after a major quake off the coast of Sumatra – followed by several powerful aftershocks – it’s business as usual for the Phuket tourism industry, despite the excitement.

Indonesian government authorities issued a tsunami warning after a powerful earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale jolted parts of Indonesia’s Java and Sumatra islands at 6:10 pm.

The United States Geological Survey center (USGS) reported that the quake occurred 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Bengkulu, Sumatra, which is 695km (435 miles) south-southwest of Singapore. The epicenter was recorded at a depth of about 30km.

The USGS also reported a magnitude 7.1 quake in the Kepulauan Mentawari region of Indonesia at 10:35 this morning. That quake, at a depth of 10km, was recorded by the National Disaster Warning Center (NDWC) in Nonthaburi, which has yet to issue any alerts but remains in a state of high readiness.

After a national television broadcast broke the news to the Thai public about 7:30 pm last night, seaside bars and shops in Patong quickly closed as throngs of people headed calmly for higher ground. Traffic jams were reported along Phra Barami Rd, the road which traverses Patong Hill.

Closer to the beach, Kathu Traffic Police switched traffic flow along the road from two-way to one-way, heading away from the beach. Access to the beach road was temporarily restricted last night to facilitate the people trying to leave the area – despite the lack of any official warning advising them to do so.

On Sainamyen Rd in Patong, people walking to safety zones congregated outside 7-Elevens and Family Mart stores, which were doing a brisk trade in alcohol sales as cars and motorbikes slowly moved away from the beach.

Conversations focused on the devastation caused by the tsunami that struck the Andaman coastline on December 26, 2004. Of the people the Gazette spoke to, many of the regular visitors to Phuket were not overly worried.

Last night’s earthquake was initially reported as 8.2 in magnitude, compared with the 9.0 earthquake in 2004. Another large quake off Sumatra registering 8.7 on the Richter scale on the night of March 28, 2005 also failed to produce a tsunami.

Following news of the initial quake, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont ordered the National Disaster Warning Center (NDWC) to monitor the situation closely. From Phuket Provincial Hall, Phuket Vice-Governor Worapoj Ratthasima urged all officials and residents to stay tuned and brace for a tsunami as a precaution, as did governors of other Andaman coast provinces.

NDWC Director Dr Smith Dharmasaroja said that he believed the earthquakes posed no danger to the six Andaman provinces, so there was no need to activate the warning-tower sirens or warning messages.

However, the fact that the warning towers had not sounded any sort of warning was cause for concern for some.

As the hours passed, people started returning to the main nightlife areas of the resort town. Many businesses remained closed for the night, however, and the beachfront road was still quiet at 10:30 pm.

Aroon Kerdsom, who heads the provincial branch of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM-Phuket), said his staff were last night ordered to report to the island’s 19 tsunami warning towers with emergency vehicles and equipment, though he stressed that the move was strictly precautionary.

The DDPM-Phuket did not evacuate people from small outlying islands as had happened in parts of Krabi and Phang Nga and his staff were told to inform the public not to panic, he said.

However, many people in low-lying coastal areas did just that, finding televised reports of the quake enough to warrant evacuation.

About 9 pm, some 80 people evacuated the Laem Tukkae area for the safety of Phuket Provincial Hall, while some coastal residents of Rawai moved up off the beach to higher ground. Both locales are home to Sea Gypsy communities.

Many residents of Kamala, which was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, did not wait for a warning before fleeing in panic to the safety of the nearby Nakkerd Hills.

K. Aroon asked the public to put faith in the information released by the DDPM and not to panic or evacuate areas unless advised to do so.

Regional testing of the NDWC’s tsunami early warning system on July 25 had revealed problems at three of the island’s 19 warning towers: Ao Makham, Kata Noi and Nai Harn. NDWC staff had since effected repairs on all three towers, which in some cases was as simple as cutting down trees impeding sound waves from traveling unobstructed, he said.

Following this morning’s quake V/Gov Worapoj said tourists need not worry about a tsunami as the government has a fully functional warning system in place and is prepared to issue a timely evacuation warning should it be necessary.

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Phuket

Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Marina Krasnopolska

WARNING! Content below contains photos of self-mutilation that some may find disturbing.

The flags on Go Teng poles were lowered on Monday, ending Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival and symbolising that the spirits have returned the heavens. The flags are raised at the start of the festivities each year at participating shrines, calling on the spirits to descend from the heavens.

This year, 2 men were electrocuted while taking down the festival flags. A steel pole with the flag touched a power pole, electrocuting and burning the workers as they were trying to lower the flags. They were taken to the hospital.

During the festival’s street processions and ceremonies so-called “mah songs” channel the descended spirits. They enter a trance-like state and many practice self-mutilation to channel the spirits. “Mah” means horse in Thai, and some say the mah song acts as a horse for the spirit to ride.

Some mah song pierce their cheeks and other parts of their body with steel spikes and sometimes swords or other bizarre choices (we’ve seen petrol pumps, javelins, samurai swords and kitchen utensils). During the street procession, they walk for hours with the self-inflicted piercings, seemingly posessed by ‘spirits’ and muttering all sort of strange chants, verging on mild cases of Tourette syndrome. A team of devotees for each mah song wipe away blood and keep the wounds clean. Some mah songs even slice their tongue for the street procession. Blood drips on their chest and the ground. Waiting bystanders line the streets hoping for the blessing of a passing mah song. Some mah songs carry a black flag.

The event is an annual spiritual ‘cleansing’ for those in watching the processions. Onlookers lining the street bow their heads and place their hands in the “wai” position as the mah song waves flags and banners over their heads. Businesses along the procession route often set up an altar outside their shop and mah songs stop at each one to do a short ritual.

The Phuket government gave the festival organisers the “okay” to hold this years event with hopes that it would increase domestic tourism and generate much-needed revenue after the Thai government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic crippled Phuket’s tourist economy. Before this year’s festival, Phuket City Mayor Somjai Suwansupana asked that the mah songs “limit the level of torturing.” He also called for a limit on the number of people at ceremonies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

His calls were largely ignored.

The spirits will again return in 2021 to Phuket again cleanse the island’s large Thai-Chinese community.

Photos of the 2020 Vegetarian Festival by Marina Krasnopolska.

Phuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The ThaigerPhuket's annual Vegetarian Festival lowers flags, spirits return to the heavens | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Phuket

Phuket told to prepare “response plan” in case of second Covid-19 outbreak

Caitlin Ashworth

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Phuket told to prepare “response plan” in case of second Covid-19 outbreak | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Daily News

As Phuket awaits foreign tourists, city officials are told to prepare a “response plan” in case of a second wave of Covid-19. An official from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports held a workshop in Phuket today to discuss the risk of another outbreak as the country opens up to those on the Special Tourist Visa.

The ministry’s permanent secretary Chote Trachu says now that the country is allowing tourists (who are required to quarantine upon arrival) an infection “may somehow slip through.” He says a response plan needs to be in place in case this happens, adding that there should be corporation from the Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Defense.

“If any tourists are found to be infected, the disease must not be allowed to spread among the people. There should be no panic, and public health officers will investigate the case. Tourist Police will track down the suspected person in an investigation with the Ministry of Public Health.”

Chote says all provinces – not just Phuket – should have a response plan. Although tourists must go through a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon arrival, Chote says there are some cases where the incubation period for Covid-19 is longer than 14 days.

“There are a variety of cases. Sometimes, the infection does not show after 14 days, or even 15 or 16 days. Each situation is different.”

Recently, a woman in Koh Samui tested positive for the coronavirus 5 days after she was released from a Samut Prakan quarantine facility. Traces of the virus were found on gym equipment the woman used at the quarantine, leading health officials to suspect she was infected before arriving to the island.

“We urge Thai people to not let their guard down. Everyone must wear masks, wash their hands and take care of personal hygiene. This will help prevent them from contracting the disease.”

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Business

Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub

Maya Taylor

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Approval sought for multi-billion-baht Phuket medical hub | The Thaiger
Mai Khao beach in north Phuket - PHOTO: www.makemytrip.com

Industry officials are seeking the go-ahead for a project to transform over 140 rai of government land in Phuket into a world-leading medical hub. The project is budgeted at 3 – 4 billion baht, depending on which report you read. Kitkong Tantijaraswarodom, from the Federation of Thai Industries, believes the development of a medical and wellness hub in the sub-district of Mai Khao, north Phuket, will help revive the southern island’s battered economy. Phuket has become increasingly reliant on a steady flow of tourists over the past 2 decades.

The southern division of the FTI covers Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Patthalung, Surat Thani, Ranong, Satun, Chumphon, and Songkhla.

“The FTI will ask the government to green-light the project during the scheduled mobile cabinet meeting on the island on November 3.”

Kitkong says businesspeople in the south are anxious for the government to approve the project, which will provide both locals and foreign medical tourists with state-of-the-art medical care. The facility is expected to include long-term care, hospice and rehabilitation services, in addition to a dental hospital, sports therapy centre, and a medical training school for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical laboratory scientists.

The chair of the FTI’s southern chapter is also calling on officials to provide small and medium-sized businesses with additional support, in the form of access to loans, in order to deal with cash shortages.

“In the short term, the FTI wants the government to help SMEs, especially those in the tourism sector.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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