Should We Be Prepared For The ‘Next Big One’?

Earthquake Rocks Chiang Mai

Should we be prepared for the ‘Next Big One’?
Another quake in northern Thailand, April 5th, 2010

A 5.5 magnitude earthquake hit the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on Friday at 6.45am, with its epicenter in the centre of the city. Although the quake only lasted 5 to 10 seconds it was sufficiently significant to cause people to dash out onto the street in alarm but local authorities have reported little damage or casualties.

Just a day previously a much bigger quake caused 75 deaths across the border in Burma, and mass panic across South-East Asia, where it was felt in the capitals of Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. Residents in the vicinity to the epicenter were advised to leave their homes and people were evacuated from tall buildings across the capitals.

So how much of a risk are earthquakes in Thailand? And should we be more conscious that the ‘Next Big One’ might strike at any time?

Map of shallow depth earthquakes in the region, with epicenters of less than 50 km

Burma Quake Leaves 75 Dead

Several earthquakes (of magnitudes 5 to 7) have hit northern  Burma and Thailand in the past 15 years, but damage and casualties have been limited. However, when the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Burma, near the border with northern Thailand on Thursday, it left many casualties. At least 75 people were killed and over 100 injured, with a reported 225 homes and nine government buildings destroyed according to state television.

The town of Tachilek was badly hit. People fled their homes and cracks were seen in the roads. “We were frightened to enter the house since there were several strong aftershocks,” a resident said.

Governor Somchai reported damage to four Buddhist pagodas in his province and the telephone connection in some areas was lost and has not been restored.

Aftershocks In Chiang Mai

Some 60 aftershocks have been felt in  northern Chiang Mai province since the

deadly earthquake, according to Thai Meteorological Department’s Seismological Bureau. An officer from the Seismological Bureau disclosed that the quake in Burma was followed by 56 aftershocks. The aftershocks were expected to continue for a week.

 1 death in Chiang Rai province

A 55-year-old woman has been reported dead in north Thailand’s Chiang Rai province on Thursday night as a result. The quake’s epicenter was about 10 kilometers underground and in the hills of Myanmar bordering Thailand and Laos, some 90 kilometers away from north of Thailand’s Chiang Rai, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Should Thailand’s residents be worried? Yes, probably… There are nine active fault lines in Thailand. The Mae Tha Fault is very close to Chiang Mai, being only about 30 kilometres away from the city. About 55 kilometres long, this fault has generated 23 quakes during the past 28 years. The most severe was a quake of magnitude 5.2 on the Richter scale in December 1995.

Look at any earthquake zone map and you will see:

  • A major fault running North-South to the East of Chiang Mai.
  • The Indian Plate from the South-West – which is moving North-East.
  • The Java Trench and the volcanic activity line that stretches to an area North-West.
  • The double fault off Sumatra.
  • And the Lampang plateau.

And the mountains that form northern Thailand?

We all know how they form from Elementary school Geology. All this stuff is moving around, all at odds to each other. Wat Chedi Luang was destroyed by an earthquake in 16th century… And while you might not want to build that underground shelter quite yet… it might not be a bad idea to not pooh-pooh the possibility of a damaging quake here either.

It might not be a bad idea to do some homework and research quake safety drills on your own, as it seems it’s little use to look to Thai authorities for advice…

Chiang Mai Governor Downplays Earthquake Risk

Chiang Mai Governor, Suwat Tantiphat, downplayed last week’s warning from the Department of Mineral Resources that 16 districts in the northern province were in an earthquake risk zone, describing the report as ‘just scientific data’.

Mr. Suwat said that the warning, which also noted that 10 districts were at risk of land subsidence, was intended to ensure that officials and the public were prepared for any contingency, but did not mean that there was any immediate threat.

However, according to ‘The Nation’ newspaper, areas in the west and northern regions are at risk from the active fault lines in those areas that could cause earthquakes of about 6 on the Richter scale.

Buildings Are At Risk Of Collapse, With Qakes Most Likely In West & Northern Regions

Severe damage – including building collapses, is quite possible according to geologists, who say they are,

“Now keeping an eye closely to monitor western and northern regions, as there are active faults in these areas,” a spokesperson from the Mineral Resources Department said yesterday.

According to an earthquake risk map produced by the department, there are 13 faults in Thailand across some 22 provinces. Kanchanaburi, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are classed as highly vulnerable to a quake of up to 7 on the Richter scale. These provinces are located near three active fault lines, called Three Pagodas Pass, Srisawat, Mae Chan. Kanchanaburi province is located near Three Pagoda Pass and Srisawat fault lines, while Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are near the Mae Chan fault.

Adichart also said that quakes with an epicentre in Burma or Laos would also affect Thailand, while a quake in the western region would affect Bangkok.

“An earthquake around 7 on the Richter scale would cause building collapses and road damage,” he said. “Unfortunately, nobody can say when they will exactly occur,” he added.

Asian Institute of Technology seismologist Dr Penneung Wanichchai said the western and northern parts of Thailand were the “locations of concern” in Thailand as moderate quakes measuring 5-6 on the Richter scale were still occurring.

“We have found that the violent earthquake [centred near Tachilek in eastern Burma] is still active in these areas.”

However, he said there was no earthquake source or fault line likely to cause severe damage and building collapses in Bangkok. But an earthquake with an epicentre outside the capital would affect buildings in Bangkok.

Pornthep Techapaiboon, the deputy governor of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), said about 60 buildings with over 30 floors in Bangkok were at risk from an earthquake rating 5-7 on the Richter scale, such as Baiyoke Tower, the Dusit Thani Hotel, MBK department store, and commercial buildings located in Silom, Sathorn, and Wireless Roads. Moreover, about 2,000 old buildings in Bangkok would be at risk from a large quake as they were constructed before the enforcement of the 2007 Building Control Act.

“We need to install protection for buildings against earthquakes,” Pennueng said.

Given that earthquakes are natural events not yet able to be reliably predicted, National Disaster Warning Centre chief Group Captain Somsak Kowsuwan said his agency had been educating members of public about earthquake preparedness, particularly in areas most at risk of a severe earthquake.

“We found that many people are not aware about earthquakes. They even do not know what they will do after a quake,” he said. “We have conducted a lot of training to practice earthquake preparedness but few officials have participated in the training.”

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On March 29, 2011, posted in: Living in Thailand by
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