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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

EARTHQUAKE AFTERMATH : Geologists: The South of Thailand has changed

Region’s risk level may be upgraded in wake of December 26

The seismic hazard level of the South might have to be increased from zero-low risk to moderate-fairly high risk because the recent Sumatra earthquake and tsunami have had a profound effect on the region’s geological structure, leading earthquake experts have warned.

The most visible indicators are the ongoing soil collapse, which has created a series of sinkholes all over the region. The largest of the 18 holes found in the past two weeks by the Department of Mineral Resources is in Nakhon Si Thammarat, measuring 20 metres in diameter and 10 metres deep.


“This is part of the aftershock effect, which could take several months,” said Assoc Prof Panya Charusiri of Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Geology.

“We are lucky that the sinkholes so far have mostly occurred in forests or on farm land. Imagine what would happen if they took place in the middle of a town,” he said.

“I don’t wish to create panic, but this is something we need to closely monitor to alert the public before it’s too late again.”

He said the devastation wreaked by the recent tsunami had ironically boosted the moral ground of seismic experts to issue public warnings of possible natural disasters in the future.

The closest the sinkholes have come to communities are in Krabi’s Ao Luek district, where the ground inside a palm oil refinery plant subsided a day after the tsunami hit. They were about 6.5 metres wide and four metres deep.

Fourteen of the 18 sinkholes were found in Satun.

The Mineral Resources Depart-ment has dispatched three teams of experts to monitor the sinkhole phenomenon.

Dr Adichat Surinkum, director

of the department’s Geotechnic Division, said concerns had been raised because the region has a

geological history of wide sinkholes, the largest of which is known today as Talay Bun Lake, which covers several hundred rai of land in Satun province.

“Although we cannot conclude for sure that Talay Bun was created by a tsunami or an earthquake because of our limited studies on geological structure in the region, we want to be on the safe side,” Adichat said.

“We have declared several ‘danger zones’ to warn people to stay away. We also told them how to observe occurrences of sinkholes, such as loud cracking noises underground.”

Chaiyaporn Siripornpibul, a senior hydrologist from the Department of Groundwater Resources, said most sinkholes had occurred on ground supported by thin layers of limestone. A series of violent attacks by tsunami waves shakes underground water, which in turn increases the pressure within the underground geological structure and causes the collapse of the limestone surface. Many sinkholes are naturally filled up later by water.

“The effects were not confined to the six affected Andaman provinces,” Chaiyaporn said.

“The sinkholes and ground vibrations occurred in many areas along the Gulf of Thailand, such as Hat Yai, Chumpon and Nakhon Si Thammarat. In fact, we also have reports of underground water vibrations as far as the Central region.”

Panya said that although the South is home to two active faults – the Ranong and Klong Marui faults – the region has received little attention from seismologists because of minimal tectonic activity in the past. Of the 0 to 3 scales of seismic risk, the South was ranked between 0 to 1, which indicates zero to low earthquakes.

However, it is believed that the occurrence of an earthquake as strong as 9 on the Richter scale, such as the one in Sumatra, means that the geological structure of the region has been changed. Panya said the seismic risk map should be revised to increase the South to level 2 or higher, which indicates moderate to fairly high risk.

“I have to admit that we have concentrated our studies in the North and West in the past because they are at level 3 on the risk scales, and the two regions have experienced many more active faults,” Panya said.

“I have just drafted a new research proposal to include the Ranong and Klong Marui faults because we need to know much more about them now.”

Dr Tortrakul Yomanak, president of the Engineering Association of Thailand, urged tighter regulations to control buildings in the region to require high-rise structures to include earthquake-resistance technology.


Source: The Nation
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