Thai PM pledges probe on lack of tsunami alert

 

Thailand will set up a panel to find out why no warnings of the deadly tsunami were issued, which might have saved thousands of lives, Prime Minister Mr Thaksin Shinawatra said Saturday.

"There must be an investigation of the whole incident, how it happened, when it happened and why early warnings could not have been issued," Mr Thaksin said in his weekly radio address.

The final toll could be nearer 8,000 than the 4,500 now known because many of the 6,500 missing were feared dead, said Mr Thaksin,

Mr Thaksin admits Thailand's response to the one of the worst natural disasters in living memory has been disorganized in a country which rarely faces anything worse than floods during the annual monsoon.

So far it appears to have had little political impact. Mr Thaksin faces a general election next month which he is expected to win handsomely.

Chief meteorologist Suparerk Tansriratanawong told reporters Monday Thailand had not been hit by a tsunami in more than 300 years and his 900-strong meteorological department, which has four earthquake experts, had no reason to expect one.

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

"If we issued a warning which would have led to evacuation, what would happen then? Business would be instantaneously affected," the source was quoted as saying.

No Asian country issued a warning of the tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Indonesia, which killed more than 124,000 people as it crashed ashore around the Indian Ocean.

Hotels on the Thai coast were packed when the tsunami hit. At least 4,560 people were killed on southern Thailand's Andaman Sea coast and its islands, more than 2,400 of them foreign tourists drawn to its sand, warms seas and coral reefs.